Skip to main content

Full text of "Lady Laura : In three volumes"

See other formats


L I B RAHY 

OF THE 

U N IVLRSITY 

Of ILLINOIS 

823 
C4<33-e 
v.3 



The nerson charging this material is re- 
Ip h o e nsible°for its rlturn to the hbrary ^rom 
which it was withdrawn on or before the 
Latest Date stamped below. 

for disciplinary action and may result 
the University. 



JAN u.m 



L161— O-1096 



LADY LATJEA 



VOL. III. 



LADY LAUEA 



MARY ELIZABETH CHRISTIE 



IN THREE VOLUMES 
VOL. III. 




STRAHAN AND COMPANY LIMITED 
34, PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON 

All rights reserved. 



Hazell, Watson, and Yiney, Printers, London and Aylesbury. 



ZZ3 
ZH£3l 
v.3 





CHAPTEE I. 

Conviction was not, courage failed, and truth 
Was something to be doubted of. ' 

T was the middle of April. East 
winds and south-west breezes, 
hail, rain, and sunshine, took 
the hours in turn. Out in the country, 
orchards were white with blossom, woods 
were powdered with faint green, and 
daffodils were blazing in the fields. In 
London, painters' ladders cumbered the 
pavement, shops were either idly shut- 
tered or bursting into splendour of spring 
finery, Eotten Eow was empty, and the 
show of carriages was shabby in the ring. 
The small big world had fled from town 
vol. in. 1 



2 LADY LAURA. 

to spend the Easter holidays among 
buds and blossoms, and the great little 
world was swarming in the dusty streets 
and shadeless parks, in practical con- 
tradiction of the announcement of the 
Morning Post that London was a desert. 

Lady Laura Heme did not read the 
Morning Post, but in this particular she 
agreed with it, notwithstanding that 
from the drawing-room window of a 
small house overlooking Eegent's Park 
she was watching the crowds of holiday- 
makers who were amusing themselves 
unfashionably in the open sunshine. 
She felt no sympathy with their enjoy- 
ment : it was loud and coarse, and jarred 
upon her taste. She looked on at it 
only because she was disinclined for any 
other occupation. 

But in truth it was not solely because 
the enjoyment of the people was coarse 
that she felt out of tune with it : 



LADY LAURA. 3 

enjoyment of itself was an affront to 
her. The very brightness of the sun- 
shine offended her mood, and the scents 
of violets and primroses, that came in 
whiffs from the baskets of flower-hawkers 
in the street, only awakened a painful 
longing to get away and bury herself in 
some grassy nook at Ardgwen, and dream 
herself back into her old life. Tears 
came into her eyes as she looked across 
the terrace and between the opposite 
houses into the green distance of feathery 
willows and slowlier-budding elms, — tears 
which came often now, and were the more 
difficult to repress that they sprang from 
no definite cause, but were only the 
expression of a vague weariness and dis- 
appointment. 

More than a year has passed since we 
last saw Laura, and the year has been 
a momentous one for her. We left 
her on the threshold, and we find her 



4 LADY LAURA. 

again in the inner chamber of life. In 
the meanwhile she has been learning 
many lessons that she did not look for ; 
and though they are very common ones, 
as might be shown by a comparison of 
experience with many of the very 
people in the street whose appearance is 
so unsympathetic to her, they seem to 
her so exceptional as to insnlate her life. 
Her marriage has disappointed her, and 
she is in despair for herself and all the 
world. 

But let ns go back over the time. 
Lord Ehoos carried through successfully 
the work of smoothing her love-path. 
He fought her battle with Lady Mary 
and Lady Walworth, and made them 
both promise to withdraw their opposi- 
tion. Mary was the hardest to persuade, 
but she gave her word solemnly in the 
end and kept it literally — treating Heme 
icily whenever they met, and speaking 



LADY LAURA. 5 

of the marriage — when speech was neces- 
sary — as a thing ordained and inevitable. 
Eachel, on the other hand, treated the 
affair as an amusing joke — especially 
amusing in view of Khoos's attitude 
towards it ; she promised lightly, and 
having promised, began immediately to 
speculate on the probabilities of Laura's 
proving inconstant. 

1 You don't expect me to force them 
to marry in spite of themselves ? ' she 
asked. 

Ehoos said not. 

1 Nor to send Laura down to Ardgwen 
at the first symptom of wavering ? ' 

That was not insisted on either. 

1 Nor to warn off every man who is not 
a bore ? It will not be dishonourable, I 
suppose, to let her see that there are a 
few other men in the world.' 

Ehoos thought not. And Lady Wal- 
worth renewed her promise, privately 



6 LADY LAURA. 

satisfied that she would not have to keep 
it long. 

But Khoos had a cordial ally in Lady 
Sarah. She kept him constantly in- 
formed as to the development of affairs, 
and once sent him a strong hint that 
Eachel was playing false. Upon which 
he made an unexpected appearance in 
Arlington Street and found that his 
sister was working hard to get Laura 
engaged to her last new lion, a certain 
Mr. Grantley Graham, a young man of 
considerable fortune, who had lately been 
returned to Parliament by a Scotch 
constituency and was creating some ex- 
citement in the House of Commons 
by trenchant speeches against political 
abuses, and some trepidation in staid 
drawing-rooms by what Lady Walworth 
euphuistically called his bold handling of 
social questions. He avowed himself the 
apostle of pure hedonism; and as Lady 



LADY LAURA. 7 

Walworth had adopted a Greek style of 
dress that season, and, with it, a leaning 
towards Greek conceptions of life, he was 
in great favour with her. She had been 
Mediaeval the year before, and would as 
likely as not be Chinese before the next 
season came round. She had opinions as 
she had clothes, because it was impossible 
to appear in society without them; but 
she liked variety in all things, and shifted 
her mind's wardrobe as often as her 
body's. In justice to her, it must be 
said that neither had any very direct 
relation to her conduct. That was regu- 
lated by impulse alone, and kept within 
safe bounds by the very variety of her 
whims. It was pleasant to talk pure 
hedonism with Mr. Graham, but to 
practise it was neither more nor less 
to be thought of than to fast and scourge 
oneself because one wore a crucifix. 
Laura also found it pleasant to talk to 



8 LADY LAURA. 

Mr. Grantley Graham, and Lady Wal- 
worth certainly deserved some credit 
for the self-denial with which she left 
them to one another while she devoted 
herself to people too behindhand to 
appreciate pure hedonism. He was 
dining in Arlington Street on the evening 
of Lord Ehoos's arrival, and Rachel was 
conscious of a triumph when after sitting 
together through dinner he and Laura 
got into tete-a-tete again in the drawing- 
room. She suspected that her brother 
had come as a spy, and was impatient 
to have it out with him. 

But Rhoos had weapons. He knew 
Grantley Graham, — a man of execrable 
opinions, which he was most honourably 
consistent in carrying out. This was 
said with a peculiar emphasis that made 
Lady Walworth suddenly realise what 
pure hedonism honourably carried out 
might lead to, and she wished the tete- 



LADY LAURA. 9 

a-Ute in the back drawing-room could be 
interrupted. She looked anxiously at 
the pair, and wondered whether Rhoos 
had noticed their mutual absorption. 
Rhoos however seemed to see nothing. 
He went on talking about Mr. Graham, 
and, though he mentioned several rather 
questionable episodes in his career which 
had not yet come to Rachel's ears, he 
laid no stress on them, but merely told 
them as relevant anecdotes likely to 
interest her. 

Rachel grew alarmed and suddenly 
showed her hand. 

' What was she to do ? He and Laura 
were devoted to one another. He might 
propose any day — was perhaps doing so 
now. And it would never do to let her 
marry a man like that.' She was ready 
for desperate measures. 

Rhoos shrugged his shoulders. ' If 
Laura likes that kind of thing ....?' 



io LADY LAURA. 

' Likes it ! My dear Ehoos, what can 
she possibly know of such things? Can't 
you go and interrupt them? It would 

look marked if I did, but you they 

will not suspect you.' 

1 Graham will probably not propose 
while I am here.' 

' A.nd you will speak to Laura to-morrow 
and tell her the sort of man he is ? ' 

' It will be better for you to do that,' 
said Ehoos drily. 

And in this way Eachel was brought 
to full confession. 

It turned out that no mischief was 
done. Laura admitted to liking Mr. 
Graham and to enjoying his conver- 
sation. But on cross-examination it 
appeared that his charm lay chiefly in 
his knowing Heme and holding similar 
opinions to his on many subjects. Of 
pure hedonism he naturally had not 
talked to her. 



LADY LAURA. n 

Lady Walworth felt that she had 
had an escape, and she underwent a re- 
action of cordiality towards Heme. She 
had him frequently to dinner during the 
remainder of the season ; and she was 
gradually dropping Mr. Graham, when 
one day he reinstated himself in her 
favour by announcing his engagement 
to a lady who fully shared his admiration 
of pure hedonism. 

Ehoos had also taken much trouble 
to get some profitable advancement for 
Heme ; and he had succeeded in obtain- 
ing for him the private secretaryship to 
the cabinet minister who was at the head 
of his office. This circumstance was felt 
to justify the reopening of the marriage 
question before the date originally fixed. 
And the result was that, very soon 
after Laura came home from her London 
season, Heme was authorised to go 
down to Ardgwen and renew his suit. 



12 LADY LAURA. 

He came one day towards the end 
of August, when Laura was sitting under 
the old cedar-trees where they had first 
made friends that September morning. 
She was curled up in a little heap at 
the foot of one of the great trees with 
Cassandra's book in her lap and a queer 
medley of thoughts in her mind. She 
had been reading of devotion to humanity, 
of self-sacrifice that asks no reward, of 
brotherhood among men, of duty to the 
generations yet unborn. But somehow, 
in her thoughts, devotion to humanity 
became a synonym for loving Maurice, 
and the day when the kingdom of 
Heaven would come upon earth was 
identified with that which should make 
her his wife. Suddenly she heard a 
rustle among the leaves, and he stood 
before her, and she sprang to him, 
and felt that heaven had opened and 
life was turned into a strain of music. 



LADY LAURA. 13 

Next day a gardener found the book 
under the trees and sent it up to the 
house. And Laura returned it to Cas- 
sandra with a great many thanks and 
an apology for the green stains that had 
come upon it during the night spent in 
the open. She wrote, ' You will not be 
angry when I tell you how it happened. 
I was reading your book yesterday under 
the trees when Maurice came, and I was 
so glad to see him that I forgot all about 
it and left it lying on the ground. I have 
tried to rub the stains out, but they will 
not move. I am so sorry. Thank you 
again, dear Cassie, for letting me keep 
the book so long. It has been a great 
comfort to me, and has made me un- 
derstand things much more clearly than 
I did before.' 

They were married in the beginning 
of September, and the early days of 
October found them settling into their 



14 LADY LAURA. 

home — the small house with an outlook 
upon Kegent's Park. The taking of that 
house had been Laura's first disappoint- 
ment. For though it was unfashionably 
situated in comparison with the houses in 
which her sisters lived, it was a more 
expensive house than they could well 
afford, unless indeed they were to spend 
all their small income upon their own 
housekeeping, and leave no margin for the 
thousand and one little schemes of out- 
side usefulness they had planned together. 
They had looked at a great many houses 
in less pleasant parts of London — houses 
in small dingy streets in central parfcs, 
semi-detached villas in suburban regions 
too remote to be named in Eed Books, 
too near to be counted among the suburbs 
of pleasant refuge from London smoke 
and noise. But friends grew pathetic at 
the idea of Laura living in such places, 
and Lord St. Asaph shuddered at their 



LADY LAURA. 15 

very names. And so the house hy 
Eegent's Park was taken to please Laura's 
family, and Laura was at first grateful to 
Maurice for giving in to her people, and 
afterwards blamed him in her heart for 
not having taken a more independent 
line. Everything else had been settled 
much in the same way. Laura was in- 
experienced and had the character of 
being unpractical. Her mother and 
sisters were the reverse, and naturally 
counted on her being guided by them 
in furnishing her house and engaging 
servants. They took her shopping, and 
hardly consulted her about what should 
be purchased. They told her how many 
servants she must keep and how much 
work each one must do, and they recom- 
mended some protegee of priceless value 
to fill each place. A kitchen-maid, much 
valued by the housekeeper at Ardgwen, 
was put through special training to 



16 LADY LAURA. 

qualify her to cook in her own right for 
Heme and Laura; a girl who had been 
educated in Lady Sarah's schools was ap- 
pointed to open their door and wait on 
them at meals; a housemaid, learned in 
hygiene and competent to light fires on 
scientific principles, was provided by Lady 
Mary ; and a charwoman was introduced 
into the house by the cook before Laura 
took possession, and proved too firrnfy 
established as an every-other-daily visitor 
to be removed by any effort of hers, un- 
less she were willing to let her cook go 
too, — a step that would have smacked of 
ingratitude towards her mother. Lady 
Walworth played the part of critic, and 
by her humorous comments upon one 
detail after another of the establishment, 
made it impossible for Laura to be 
blind to the absurdity of her position. 
She was the doll of the family, a creature 
without will, dignity, or authority. She 



LADY LAURA. 17 

gave sham orders to servants who ruled 
her, handed out sums of money for ex- 
penses over which she had no control, 
was called mistress of a house in which 
no one was less free than herself. These 
things were clear to her in very early 
days of her married life, but they did not 
in the beginning gall her so much as 
they came to do by-and-by. When first 
they came to London the world was 
away, and Maurice came home early 
from his office, and had abundant leisure 
to spend with her. She was still child 
enough to enjoy the bustle of settling 
into the house, and since her husband 
assured her that submission to the be- 
nevolent despotism of her mother and 
sisters need be only temporary, she be- 
lieved that the fulfilment of her dreams 
was only deferred. Things would 
change, and in a little time she and 
Maurice would quietly slip their chains 
vol. in. 2 



M 



18 LADY LAURA. 

and do all the things they had talked of. 
And in the meanwhile she had more than 
enough to do in reading and learning 
all the things a useful woman ought to 
know. Heme initiated her by degrees 
into the philosophy of modern life, and 
told her how, long ago, he had begun 
a book of which the purpose was to 
bring home to the most simple and un- 
educated minds all such results of modern 
thought and discovery as bear directly 
upon daily life, and how he had laid it 
aside because his own life had proved 
unsatisfactory and he had shrunk from 
offering himself as a blind leader of the 
blind. Laura was eager to see the work, 
and he got out the long-neglected manu- 
script and read it to her during the 
evenings they spent together, and she 
wondered and admired and looked for- 
ward to the day when it should be given 
to the world and her husband should 



LADY LAURA. 19 

be cleared of the imputation of haviug 
turned back from the plough. 

But as the world came back to Lon- 
don, things changed. Heme's work 
was heavier, and he came home late 
from his office. Then invitations came 
thickly, and they were out almost every 
evening. Time, which had seemed in- 
finite in the beginning, was now so short 
that from Sunday to Sunday Laura hardly 
had half-an-hour's real talk with her 
husband. He was always busy or tired. 
She had to go on alone with books they 
had begun together, and, if she referred 
to the plans they had made in the 
autumn, he seemed to have lost interest 
in them. The book was put away and 
never mentioned. 

He had said that their present way 
of life was only temporary, but it seemed 
to Laura that they were settling into a 
groove which they would never get out 



2 o LADY LAURA. 

of again, — or rather into two grooves 
separate one from the other, his of office 
routine, hers of dollish uselessness. In 
every contact with him she seemed to 
find the echo of her own words when 
he was wooing her, c There is a gulf 
hetween us — I said there was a gulf.' 

It was the irony of her lot that 
the gulf was another than that which 
she had dreaded. Cassandra's prophecy 
had justified itself — she had not heen 
long in learning to think with her 
husband in all things. It was he who 
had first roused her to think and feel 
beyond her personal life, and her sym- 
pathies had flowed easily into the channel 
of his own. She was like a finely capable 
instrument that chance had thrown under 
his hand to utter music of his choosing, 
or be silent if he forgot to touch the 
strings. But, being a human instrument, 
her silence could be only external. 



LADY LAURA. 21 

Inwardly she was full of voices — the tunes 
he had taught her played themselves out 
in her heart, sadly and with wearisome 
mechanical repetitions. The ideas that 
had seemed pregnant with action a few 
months ago were now a meaningless habit 
of her mind. They could lead to nothing, 
they brought her no satisfaction, but she 
could not cast them out. They clung 
about her life importunately like persons 
with whom we have begun acquaintance on 
a warmer footing than we can maintain, 
and who, when we are cooling towards 
them, hang inconveniently upon us, not 
allowing us to follow the impulse of the 
altered mood that would disown them. 
She wished now that she had never 
heard of these fine-sounding humani 
tarian ideas that were so much too large 
for the practice of daily life, that she had 
never been asked to participate in plans 
that were not to be carried into action. 



22 LADY LAURA. 

She might then have heen happy in the 
round of shams that filled her day. 
She might have believed still, as she had 
once believed, that all work connected 
however distantly or mechanically with 
the political world was of patriotic quality, 
and that every man who went forth daily 
to his office and played his part in the 
great machine of government was an 
obscure hero indispensable to his coun- 
try's good. But Heme had broken this 
illusion among many others. He had 
taught her to look at the British Con- 
stitution from the high ground of philo- 
sophical politics, to laugh with him at 
its anomalies, to feel the want of system 
in its basis, and to see in the confusion 
of its development the incurable anarchy 
that precedes dissolution. He had taught 
her in short to look upon the whole 
existing machinery of government as an 
entanglement of abuses which it was 



LADY LAURA. 23 

only justifiable to bear with till the mo- 
ment came for the substitution of a new 
order grounded on more systematic con- 
ceptions and born of a higher inspiration. 
It was therefore impossible for her to 
take much interest in his work, or to 
believe that it had any result of public 
benefit in the contemplation of which 
she might find compensation for her 
private loss ; and it was inevitable that 
she should suffer in seeing him day by 
day grow more absorbed in it. 

Then too he had shut up all ways of 
consolation. By looking through his 
eyes she had come to regard the life of 
her own class as selfish and frivolous, so 
that she could not content herself with 
the amusements of society. And the 
possibility of higher consolations was 
gone also. He had taken away her faith 
and given her nothing instead. She had 
staked all on him, and he had failed her. 



24 LADY LAURA. 

Not that she exactly blamed him ; 
she could not do that yet, just as she 
could not yet have forgiven him had she 
looked his inconsistencies fully in the 
face. The man who had seemed to her 
girl's eyes the one hero in a world of 
faulty creatures must be kept at heroic 
height a little longer. So she blamed 
the general world and the ordering of 
it — blackening the background that her 
white spot grown grey might retain at 
least a relative radiance. 

And all the while she concealed her 
disappointment so well that Heme be- 
lieved her to be fully satisfied with her 
life, and when his fetters galled him as 
they too often did, he habitually justified 
himself for submitting to wear them by 
reflecting that they were the dowry she 
had brought him. Cassandra's warning 
came back to him not seldom. In such 
a marriage one or other must be sacri- 



LADY LAURA. 25 

ficed. It seemed on the whole more 
chivalrous to let it be himself. 

1 Marriage is the safeguard of the 
country,' said an elderly gentleman one 
evening at a house where they were 
dinning. ' If all marriages of young 
members of parliament and newspaper 
writers could be prohibited for a term 
of five years we should have a revolution 
before half the time was gone. I could 
name fifty men of my own acquaintance 
who, from being fire-brands, have become 
pillars of the state, and the talisman has 
been marriage in every case. There is 
nothing like it.' 

Upon which had followed a general 
discussion, and everybody had adduced 
cases in support of the theory. Laura's 
neighbour took the opportunity of thank- 
ing her for an article of Heme's which 
had lately appeared in the Present Bay, 
a colourless periodical that served as a 



26 LADY LAURA. 

meeting-ground for writers of all parties 
in their relaxed moods, its contents being 
chiefly remarkable for that judicious 
quality of balance that gives the reader 
rest. Laura, who had not followed the 
conversation, did not at once see the 
point of the compliment. She bright- 
ened at praise of her husband's work, 
and said something incoherent about 
having had no part in it beyond that of 
an amanuensis. 

' No conscious part of course ; you 
ladies always do your best work uncon- 
sciously,' said her friend with bland 
paternal gallantry. ' I may tell you in 
confidence that your influence is telling, 
— this article is its first fruit. You 
have taught your husband that we are 
not all ripe for knocking down. When 
a man passes from the "Reformer to the 
Present Day we may consider him 
convalescent. Heme will be with us 



LADY LAURA. 27 

altogether before long — fairly out of 
quarantine.' 

Laura understood now, and could have 
cried with annoyance. Humiliation and 
mortification could hardly have been 
more exquisitely contrived : the world 
was thanking her for the results that 
made her miserable. 

As Easter drew near she was buoyed up 
by the anticipation of a holiday visit to 
Ardgwen. The prospect was delightful 
to her in every way. She and Maurice 
would find one another again in the 
woods where they had found one another 
first. And her mother would help her. 
Not that she would tell her mother 
that she was disappointed, but somehow 
that expression in Lady St. Asaph's face, 
and the tremor in her voice that had 
perplexed her when she was confiding 
her love-story to her, came back to her 
often now as she mused upon her 



28 LADY LAURA. 

trouble. They seemed sympathetic to it. 
Her mother would guess how it was with 
her and help her. 

There was another face too that she 
wanted to see again. She was haunted 
by the likeness of her namesake that 
hung in the library at home. Whenever 
she looked in the glass, it seemed to her 
that the face of her ancestress looked 
out at her instead of her own reflection. 
And sometimes the impression was so 
strong as to make her wonder whether 
she was going mad and this was her 
first delusion. She was impatient to 
see the picture again, and note some of 
the points of difference between herself 
and it. 

Altogether the longing for the visit 
grew intense, almost to frenzy. It was 
to end all her troubles and begin heaven 
again with better chances of continuance. 

But she was to be disappointed in this 



LADY LAURA. 29 

also. One morning at breakfast while 
she was counting the days till they could 
go, Heme told her that they must give 
up the visit. There were holiday duties 
to be done at his office, and the man on 
whom they would have fallen in the 
natural course of things was disabled by 
serious illness. For various reasons the 
work devolved upon him. 

' It is a bore,' he said, ' but it can't be 
helped. And after all I don't know that 
we shall lose much in the end. We can 
get away at Whitsuntide if we stay now, 
and the weather will probably be plea- 
santer then. Can you give me another 
cup of tea ? ' 

He was holding out his cup to 
her. She must look up and smile, and 
take it, and make what apology she 
could for the foolish tears that she 
could not repress. 

Of course he saw her tears and wanted 



30 LADY LAURA. 

to know their cause. She stammered 
that they had none beyond that she 
was silly and not very well. Then why 
had she not told him that she was ill ? 
He spoke in affectionate reproach, kissed 
her and stroked her hair, and insisted 
on being told exactly what was the 
matter. 

She felt herself a humbug, and ex- 
plained that she was not ill, only foolish, 
and finally attributed her tears to the 
disappointment about the visit to Ard- 
gwen, — which was in truth no more than 
their occasion. Of their cause she could 
not bring herself to speak, though her 
instinct told her now was her moment. 
Heme took her confession in good faith, 
and believed that she was crying child- 
ishly because her anticipated holiday 
was deferred. It was his turn to feel 
disappointed, and he did not conceal 
his annoyance. When he told her that 



LADY LAURA. 31 

they would have to stay in London 
through the recess, it had been in his 
mind that the relinquishment of the 
holiday visit would restore to them a 
little of the privacy they had enjoyed 
so much before. He had thought Laura 
would see it in this light, he had counted 
on hearing her suggest that this would 
be compensation. He suggested it him- 
self now, but in a tone of remonstrance 
that robbed the suggestion of comfort. 
Then he proposed that she should go 
alone since her heart was so much set 
npon it, and she felt that the tables 
were turned upon her. She must seem 
to him not silly only, but selfish, to be 
grieving over her own disappointments 
instead of throwing herself into his life. 
She would not hear of going alone — she 
did not mind about Ardgwen. She 
should like nothing so well as having 
a quiet time at home with him. She 



32 LADY LAURA. 

could not think why she had been so 
silly as to cry 

In short she was altogether ashamed 
of herself, and said so, and asked to 
be forgiven. 

And so there was a little scene of 
forgiveness and reconciliation as if there 
had been a quarrel. And Heme went 
out to his office with a feeling of annoy- 
ance, and Laura sat at home and read 
her books and made heroic resolutions 
never to be foolish again. 

On his way, Heme called on Lady 
Walworth, and told her that Laura 
seemed rather unwell and nervous, and 
asked her to look in on her in the 
course of the morning. 

Kachel came, and found her sister 
looking brighter than usual. 

* Why, you are like Mother Hubbard's 
dog/ she said. ' Maurice came and 
told me that you were ill, and that 



LADY LAURA. 33 

I was to look in and prescribe. But 
you seem better than usual. What did 
he mean ? ' 

Laura blushed uncomfortably, and 
felt her tears coming back at the refer- 
ence to them. 

1 1 was silly at breakfast this morning, 
that was all. But it was good of 
Maurice to ask you to come. He is 
very good.' 

' Of course he is,' said Eachel, and she 
repented of having disregarded his in- 
junction not to let Laura know that 
she came at his bidding. ' Of course 
Maurice is very good. But w r hat are 
you doing with those big books ? ' 

1 1 am learning,' said Laura. 

' Learning ! ' said Lady Walworth 
coming near and looking over her 
shoulder. l What is it all about ? 
" Social Dynamics " . . . . " Solidarity of 
the Human Race" .... " Classification 

vol. in. 3 



34 LADY LAURA. 

of the Sciences' ' .... Why, you will 
never learn anything out of a prosy book 
like this. I believe big books only stupefy 
people. The only way to learn now is to 
read periodicals and newspapers, and keep 
your ears open in society. Thank God, 
people have learned to condense their 
thoughts nowadays, and everything that 
is worth remembering can be said in 
two words — if it were not so we could 
never keep up with the new ideas. 
Why, by the time one has plodded 
through a big book like that, every- 
thing in it is found to be untrue. No 
wonder you get morbid if you read that 
sort of thing.' 

1 Who says I am morbid ? ' asked 
Lama. ' Not Maurice ? Maurice likes 
me to read this book/ 

' No, no, Maurice did not say you were 
morbid. It is I who say it. He said 
you were nervous. But I shall tell him 



LADY LAURA. 35 

that it is liis own fault for making you 
read this sort of thing. I shall send you 
a bundle of novels, and now I want you 
to come for a drive with me. I have 
some shopping to do, and then I am 
going to drive out to Wimbledon/ 

Laura consented, supposing that the 
drive had also been arranged by Maurice, 
and wishing to be obedient. 

The drive did her good. The fresh 
west wind sweeping over Wimbledon 
Common had a tonic effect on her 
nerves, and her sister's conversation com- 
pleted her cure. Kachel was a mistress 
of the art of turning things with the 
laughable side upwards, and she put forth 
all her powers for Laura's benefit, plying 
her incessantly with ridiculous anecdotes, 
and theories of life — half-serious and half- 
burlesque ; now making her laugh, then 
drawing her into argument, and then 
making her laugh again by some out- 



36 LADY LAURA. 

rageous absurdity flung id as sober sense 
the moment argument began to be too 
serious. The result was that, when 
Heme came home in the evening, he 
found Laura looking more animated 
than he had seen her for months, and 
he congratulated himself on having 
effectively cured a passing humour of 
depression. 

Laura thought she was cured too, and 
for a few days she kept up the illusion. 
She desisted for a while from her vain 
twitchings at the great tangled skein of 
human things, and tried to work the few 
threads her fingers had broken from it 
into a fragment of domestic tapestry. 
She laughed at herself for having wanted 
to reform the world, and set about reform- 
ing her household. Books on domestic 
economy succeeded to the Social Dyna- 
mics at which Lady Walworth had 
laughed; she got the cook to teach her 



LADY LAURA. 37 

to make an omelette, and announced her 
intention of henceforth paying the trades- 
men herself. The purchase of a very 
large account-book was another laudable 
step in the same direction. The keeping 
of accurate accounts seemed to her a 
typical act of good housewifery likely 
to react beneficially on the internal ar- 
rangements of a house somewhat as reli- 
gious exercises react on the pious mind 
that practises them. Then she discovered 
that there were a host of small things 
to be done in the way of beautifying 
the house — things she had promised to 
do long ago and never somehow found 
time for. She did them now, and found 
them amusing, and grew lighthearted 
over them. 

It was a pretty little comedy she 
acted, with her conscience for applaud- 
ing audience. And she quite enjoyed 
it while it lasted. But unfortunately 



38 LADY LAURA. 

it did not last long ; like so many 
great actors she was ill-supported by 
the remainder of the caste. Her house- 
hold did not enter into the spirit of 
the play, and showed a disposition to 
resent her quickened interest in their 
doings. She found herself quietly op- 
posed by them ; her notions of reform 
were snubbed; she realised her help- 
lessness aud submitted. Conscious of her 
own inability to sweep, scrub, or cook, she 
was too honest to give herself airs of 
superiority towards those who could, and 
she acquiesced perforce in their decision 
as to how things should be done. Her 
attempt at practical control collapsed, 
and her part in the household was re- 
duced to keeping account of what others 
did. She wished for real poverty that 
lives in a cottage and keeps no servants ; 
then she might have done things badly 
till she learned to do them well, and 



LADY LAURA. 39 

recovered self-respect in knowing herself 
useful. Her own little skein-end would 
then fairly occupy all her energies, and 
it would be her duty to be always work- 
ing at it. In her present circumstances 
it only grew more ruffled for her finger- 
ing, and the best thing she could do was 
nothing. And back went her mind to 
the big problems from which she had 
lately chidden it away. It was useless 
to tell her they were no business of hers. 
Perhaps they were not. Perhaps all her 
duty in life was to sit contentedly at 
home and be happy and make her hus- 
band happy. She could not, that was 
all. Not while sad faces reproached her 
in the street, not while the newspapers 
told awful stories of crime and misery, 
not while ignorance prevailed and people 
all around her were groping in darkness, 
could she be content to use the light that 
had been revealed to her as a domestic 



4 o LADY LAURA. 

lamp to illumine her happiness and her 
husband's. She might be wicked, un- 
reasonable, every way to blame, but she 
could not. Eachel had said that she 
was morbid. What did morbid mean? 
she asked herself, suddenly realising that 
she had the vaguest notions as to the 
sense of the word. She looked it out in 
the dictionary. ' Morbid, diseased, sickly.' 
She smiled helplessly. People were not 
generally blamed for being diseased and 
sickly. Besides, was it a disease to be 
sorry for people and to want to help 
them ? Maurice used not to say so, nor 
Cassandra. She would not believe it. 
It was the world that was to blame — the 
selfish world that went its own way of 
enjoyment, careless of the misery of 
others — like the Florentines who fled 
from the plague-stricken city to amuse 
themselves with telling love-tales in a 
garden. They ought to have stayed 



LADY LAURA. 41 

and helped. But then they might have 
caught the plague and been ill. Diseased, 
sickly, and consequently much to blame ! 
Laura grew scornful. They might have 
died and swelled the cankering heaps of 
corpses. What good in that ? To sicken 
and die was to become a noxious thing, 
pestilent, poisonous. Morbid began to 
seem a more reasonable word of reproach, 
flight the least pernicious course. Only 
she could not fly. She must stay in the 
infected city and catch its sickness and 
be blamed for what she could not help. 
The picture at Ardgwen rose before her. 
She realised the lot of her ancestress 
with painful sympathy, the thwarted 
aspirations, the uncongenial surround- 
ings, the silent suffering, the early death 
closing a useless life. Likeness of face 
pointed to likeness in lot. Laura thought 
she was pitying the sad woman who had 
died two ^hundred years ago ; but her 



42 LADY LAURA. 

tears were for the living one to whose 
sadness the shadow of the other's fate 
added a shade of superstitious dread. 

This was the point to which she had 
come on that April morning when the 
world was making merry and its merri- 
ment jarred upon her taste. Her in- 
clination being to weep with those who 
were weeping, she very naturally re- 
sented the invitation of the sunshine to 
laugh with those who were laughing. 
There was to be no laughter with her 
sanction till there was no more weeping. 
She tinned wearily from the window and 
addressed herself to her weekly task of 
casting up tradesmen's books, and then 
when she had ascertained that neither 
butcher, baker, greengrocer, nor milkman 
had failed in his addition, she put on her 
bonnet and went out to pay them. 

The streets were crowded, dirty, dis- 
agreeable, and Laura almost repented 



LADY LAURA. 43 

of having come out. She disliked being 
jostled by dirty people. However, the 
alternative of going back to the house 
and sitting alone with her thoughts till 
dinner-time, was worse, and she went on. 
Having paid her bills, she bethought her 
that a pleasanter way home than through 
the market-street might be found by 
going a little round and cutting across 
a corner of the park. She turned up a 
little street where two or three shops had 
lately been converted into a temporary 
place of worship, of which the Gothic 
doorway, surmounted by a cross, indicated 
the High Church character, a hint borne 
out by the inscription on a neighbouring 
door, ' Mission House of the Sisterhood 
of St. Ursula.' Laura had often met the 
Sisters of St. Ursula in her walks, and they 
interested her. Were they not, like her- 
self, trying to straighten the tangled skein, 
and, if they were pulling by another end, 



44 LADY LAURA. 

why should that shut them out of her 
sympathy ? Difference of religious direc- 
tion did not hinder her from feeling for 
and with the Lady Laura of the picture : 
why should it divide her from the living 
women who were doing in fact what her 
ancestress had pined away in the vain 
desire to do ? She stopped in front of 
the huilding with a half-wish to go in 
and make friends with them. A Sister 
came to the door with a broom in her 
hand; she was sweeping out the room 
preparatory to service. Seeing Laura on 
the threshold, she thought she must be 
wanting information. 

' Do you want to come in ? ' she asked. 

c Is there service going on ? ' Evi- 
dently there was not ; but Laura did 
not exactly know what to answer. She 
had not made up her mind to go in, 
and yet she did not wish to turn away. 

1 Service will not be till half-past five 



LADY LAURA. 45 

But the door is always open. You can 
come in if you like/ 

1 Thank you,' said Laura; 'I do not 
think I will come in.' 

The Sister's face was unattractive : so 
was the room, now that she looked into 
it, — distempered walls stuck about with 
illuminated texts, deal boards crowded 
with rush-bottomed chairs, a little altar 
covered with bright needlework and 
set out with flowers, seemed to offer 
no answer to her needs. She wanted 
warmth of human life and sympathy, 
and she saw no promise of this here. 

1 No, I do not think I want to come 
in,' she said. But she still lingered on 
the doorstep. 

1 Would you like to speak to the 
Mother Superior ? ' asked the Sister, 
divining that some inward trouble must 
be the cause of this apparently purpose- 
less waiting. 



46 LADY LAURA, 

' No, thank you, not to-day. You said 
the service was at five, I think ? ' 

' Half-past five,' repeated the Sister. 

1 Oh yes, half-past — I had forgotten. 
Good-morning.' 

And Laura walked on up the street, 
with no intention of coming to the 
service at whatever time it might he. 

She seemed fated to make acquaintance 
with the Sisters that day. As she was 
turning the corner to get into the street 
that would lead her into Regent's Park, 
a procession of children in hlue linen 
frocks came upon her. She stood to let 
them pass ; and, as they went by, more 
than one turned to look at the ' pretty 
lady.' One little one in particular looked 
so long, that, walking with her head 
turned over her shoulder, she caught 
her foot in a worn paving-stone and 
fell prone upon the footway, screaming 
lustily. Laura started forward and 



LADY LAURA. 47 

picked her up, and found herself, in a 
few seconds, the centre of a little crowd 
of foot-passengers who paused to look 
and inquire what was the matter. It 
was a relief to see a Sister join the group 
and claim the little one as her charge. 

' I don't think she is much hurt,' said 
Laura preparing to yield her up. But 
the child had taken a fancy to her and 
began to cry again at the attempted 
transference. Her little fingers closed 
round Laura's watch chain, and every 
attempt to loosen them caused fresh 
screams. 

1 Will you not let me carry her home ? ' 
asked Laura. ' I am really responsible 
for the accident. She was looking back 
at me when she fell. May I take her 
home ? ' 

' If you will, it will be very kind. But 
I am afraid you will find her heavy; 
you do not look very strong.' 



48 LADY LAURA. 

The Sister spoke in a tender, com- 
passionate tone. Like many other people 
that afternoon, she was seized with sud- 
den pity for this young fair woman, who 
seemed outwardly so blessed, and yet 
wore such a look of sadness in her face. 

1 Is it far ? ' asked Laura. 

1 No, only to our nursery at the end 
of the street. You seem fond of chil- 
dren. Perhaps you will like to see our 
nursery and school.' 

' I should very much.' 

Laura felt more inclined to accept the 
invitations of this Sister than of the 
other. She was a young, light-haired 
girl who looked about her own age, with 
merry dark-blue eyes, and an irregular 
waving line of mouth that broke con- 
tinually into smiles as she spoke, making 
dimples in her cheeks, and showing 
beautifully white teeth, — the face of a 
boy-angel, sunny, joyous, and free from 



LADY LAURA. 49 

care, — a bright incarnation of unselfish 
usefulness. Laura walked by her, won- 
dering how a girl like this came to be 
a Sister of Charity and whether it must 
not be a good life that could make any 
one so happy. 

The child had fallen asleep by the 
time they reached the school, and Sister 
Edith put her to bed in a little crib. 
Then she showed Laura all the arrange- 
ments of the school and the nursery, 
prattling innocently about every detail, 
and passing from trivialities to things 
the most important with a quaint mix- 
ture of childish simplicity and womanly 
responsibility. 

1 Do you manage the school entirely 
yourself ? ' 

1 At present I do, because we are only 
three, and there is more than enough 
for the others to do among the sick 
people about. It is a terrible neighbour- 

VOL. III. 4 



So LADY LAURA. 

hood, and there are very few people here 
who will help us at all.' 

Laura blushed. 'I have often wished 
I could do some useful work among the 
poor people, but it is so difficult to know 
how. 1 

'I think it is impossible to do any- 
good unless one gives oneself up to it 
wholly/ 

' You mean unless one becomes a Sister 
like you.' 

1 1 don't say that it is so with every- 
body, but I think it is true of most 
women. I could never have done any- 
thing if I had not joined the sisterhood.' 

' But everybody cannot be a Sister,' 
said Laura ; ' people have belongings — 
I am married. I could not leave my 
husband, even if I wished it.' 

' No,' said the Sister, and she looked 
at Laura with a mingled compassion and 
curiosity that made her shrink. 



LADY LAURA. 51 

1 You surely do not think it wrong to 
be married ? ' 

' I was only saying what I thought 
was the one way of doing this sort of 
work.' 

'I don't see why one should not do 
some work, though one may not give up 
all one's life to it.' 

Sister Edith shook her head. 

' It is not a question of quantity so 
much as of quality. You might work 
ten hours a day at charity, but if your 
life lay in another world, your work 
would not be of much use. You see 
we Sisters are as poor as the people we 
want to help. We have nothing at all 
of our own, and the Mission has very- 
little. We very often do not know how 
we shall make out to-morrow's meal. 
And the people know this, and what we 
give them they value, because they know 
that it is a sacrifice of the simplest 



UBRARV 

•NWttS/TY OF lUJNOt< 



52 LADY LAURA. 

necessaries of life. And there is more 
than that I think. We have no life out- 
side our work except our religious life. 
And the people know this, and so, when 
we speak to them of the blessings of 
religion, they believe that we mean what 
we say.' 

1 How long have you been a Sister ? ' 
asked Laura. 

' Ten years/ 

Laura looked almost incredulous. 

1 You thought I was much younger 
than I am. Everybody does. I am 
twenty-eight. I came here when I was 
eighteen, and I have never repented it. 
It is the best life, I think, that is possible 
in the world now — the most true to 
Christianity, and the one in which there 
is least conflict/ 

* You seem to forget,' said Laura, 
' that it is a life impossible to most 
people. And as for conflict, one does 



LADY LAURA. 53 

not choose it. It comes in spite of 
oneself. It is not possible for everybody 
to be a Sister of Charity. ' 

She spoke impatiently. There was 
something provoking in the Sister's 
calm assumption that her own way of 
life was the one right way, the more 
so that Laura was much inclined to 
agree with her. The statement so 
quietly made that no redeeming work 
was to be done except by entire devotion 
and renunciation of all personal ends 
found a full echo in her own heart, but 
she felt nevertheless an unreasonable 
resentment against the implied blame 
to herself as one who lingered in the 
world. 

' There is surely other work to be done 
besides that of a Sister of Charity ? ' she 
said, feeling however quite at a loss 
to say what the work might be. 

1 Possibly,' answered the Sister; 'but 



54 LADY LAURA. 

I know nothing of it. I only say that 
this sort of work can be done in no way 
but this. It was the work I wanted to 
do. I know nothing of other work.' 

' It is the work I want to do. It is 
the only work that seems to me worth 
doing. But I can do nothing. I am 
married, and my husband is absorbed 
in other things. What am I to do ? ' 

With a sudden impulse Laura had 
thrown off concealment. The calm con- 
viction that had provoked her a moment 
ago, attracted her now. This young 
woman had evidently solved the problem 
of life : she had chosen and had not 
repented. It was an instinctive act to 
ask guidance of her. 

Sister Edith did not answer at once. 
Laura's appeal struck a chord in her 
that had been long silent. It awakened 
emotions that had vibrated painfully in 
the days when the choice was not yet 



LADY LAURA, 55 

taken that had ended conflict before 
the time when conflict may be most 
terrible. She had found shelter from 
the storm while it only brooded im- 
minent in clouds of threatening outline, 
and she had no counsel for those who 
were in the thick of it — only compassion 
and an impotent wish that the world 
were ordered otherwise. 

'What shall I do?' Laura asked again, 
unsuspicious that the silence of oracles is 
often but the expression of their igno- 
rance. It seemed impossible that one 
who was so contented herself should 
have no talisman for healing the dis- 
content of others. ' What shall I do ? ' 
she repeated imperatively. 

Pressed to answer, Sister Edith spoke 
of the memories Laura had awakened. 
She said, 'You feel as I used to feel. 
It was that that made me leave the 
world. I could not help thinking of all 



56 LADY LAURA. 

the misery around me. It haunted me 
so that all enjoyment seemed wrong, 
and the only life that was not wicked 
and unchristian, one that should be at 
all points like that of our Saviour Him- 
self/ 

She bowed her head solemnly, and 
Laura, under the influence of a strong 
sympathy, bowed hers also, forgetful that 
Christianity lay behind her, and that 
the life of Christ was no longer to her 
a type divinely given for imitation. 

' Every other life/ continued the Sister, 
i seemed to me not only wrong but un- 
happy, and yet when I spoke of what 
I felt to others, they said I was un- 
reasonable. People used to tell me that 
the times were changed, and that right 
and wrong changed with the times, so 
that what was very beautiful and good 
eighteen hundred years ago would only 
lead to confusion if it were tried now. I 



LADY LAURA. S7 

was too ignorant to answer them, but 
they could not convince me, and at last 
I followed my impulse and became a 
Sister of Charity. I have never repented 
it. I have been working ten years now, 
and I am happy.' 

Laura was disappointed. This practi- 
cal argument, ' I have never repented,' 
seemed the only arrow in Sister Edith's 
quiver — sufficient for herself, but useless 
for all besides. Of what good was it to 
her,, whose duty lay in the world, to be 
told again and again that for those who 
had left it there was peace ? She began 
to rebel against a content that was so 
self-centred : she said to herself that these 
Sisters were no better than the rest of 
the world — they shut their eyes and ears 
and cried peace when it was evident to 
all who were not blind and deaf that 
there was as yet no peace. She said 
what she felt : — 



58 LADY LAURA. 

'But what right have you to be so 
happy? There is still misery in the 
world. And if it was the misery that 
made you sad before, it ought to make 
you sad still. I think it is a sort of 
childishness to be happy just because one 
is busy oneself.' 

The rudeness of the speech was con- 
doned by the evident distress of the 
speaker. 

Sister Edith answered quietly, — 
'.The misery is still there certainly, 
but it no longer reproaches me with look- 
ing on and doing nothing to hinder it 
from spreading. We do what we can, 
and trust God for the rest. I do not 
think that can be childish, unless all 
God's teaching is false, and then indeed 
we must be without hope.' 

' I beg your pardon, I had forgotten ' 

Laura broke off in her apology. She 
had forgotten that the Sisters believed 



LADY LAURA. 59 

in God, and had not therefore the weight 
of all the world's woes pressing on their 
spirits. They had but to do their duty 
and report faithfully to their taskmaster — 
tha rest was in stronger hands. But 
she had no such trust, she could only 
look from the chaos of outside things to 
the impotence within herself, and find 
no rest in either. 

The bell that had been tolling for the 
last ten minutes stopped its monotonous 
summons, and the half-hour struck. 

'It is time for evensong/ said the 
Sister quietly. ' Will you come with 
me?' 

' Not to-day,' said Laura. 

' Then I must say good-bye to you.' 

' May I come and see you again ? ' 

1 Whenever you like.' 

' And work with you ? I could teach 
the little children. I should like it.' 

'I cannot stay now,' said the Sister; 



60 LADY LAURA. 

and her black robe flitted through the 
doorway. 

Laura stood for a few moments looking 
after her. She felt that her petition had 
been rejected, she was not to be allowed 
to work with the Sisters. Perhaps they 
knew about her, and disapproved of her 
as an infidel. They certainly would dis- 
approve, if they knew. Any way, there 
was no help for her at the Mission House. 
She gathered up her gown and began to 
walk sadly home. As she went, she 
thought over the conversation with Sister 
Edith and came to the conclusion that 
she was wrong. But then who was right ? 
She wished Cassandra would come and 
see her. But Cassandra always made 
excuses when she asked her to come and 
stay with her, and lately she had not 
even written. She wished somebody 
would advise her with authority, and she 
looked up and stared into the eyes of 



LADY LAURA. 61 

the first person who met her in the 
street. 

It was Cassandra, come like a miracu- 
lous answer to prayer. She fell upon her, 
and in another minute they were walking 
to Chester Place together. 





CHAPTEE II. 

1 It is as impossible now, as in the days of our first 
parents, to believe that the garden of Eden is the lurking- 
place of the serpent of temptation. ' 

iASSANDKA was staying with 
the Annesleys. She had been 
in London three weeks, and did 
not know how much longer she might 
stay. So much Laura learned from her 
in the course of their walk home, but 
more she at first refused to tell, though 
Laura clamoured for why and wherefore. 
She was mysterious, evasive, fantastical, 
to a point that was exasperating. But 
then she was affectionate, bright, and 
animated to a point that was delightful. 



LADY LAURA. 63 

And Laura could not be angry with 
her. She repaid her reserve by a flow 
of confidence, if one may call confidences 
those disingenuous narratives that we all 
indulge in sometimes, in which nothing 
is true but the chronicle of objective 
facts, nothing false but the treatment of 
our moods in experiencing them. Laura 
talked on, laughed at the slavery in 
which her servants held her, made light 
of the disappointment about Ardgwen, 
described her interview with the Sister 
of Charity, and said it had effectually 
cured her of all illusions about convent 
life, and reminded Cassandra of her cyni- 
cal saying that people only renounced 
the world when their own folly had made 
it too hot for them. I was going to say 
that she acted well, and took Cassandra 
in. But on second thoughts I doubt 
whether she was acting. She felt better 
for seeing Cassandra, and all things 



64 LADY LAURA. 

looked suddenly bright to her. She 
could not help painting them in bright 
colours. 

Cassandra believed her to be perfectly 
happy, and was honestly thankful that 
it was so ; not only for Laura's sake, 
but because her own future was thereby 
cleared of difficulties. In coming to 
London she had meant to keep out of 
the way of Heme and Laura. She had 
anticipated some difficulty in doing so, 
but she was resolved to do it at all cost 
rather than risk coming between husband 
and wife. But now, as she sat in Laura's 
drawing-room and heard her talking 
about her life with what she took for 
full content, she began to think that her 
determination to keep away had been 
unnecessary and that she might safely 
keep up her friendship with them. In 
fact, to do so seemed now a safer course 
than the other, which would of course 



LADY LAURA. 65 

surprise Laura and set her seeking for a 
cause, — a search which could hardly 
miss its end. 

Laura, having told her own story, re- 
newed her pressure for Cassandra's. 
And Cassandra became more communi- 
cative. She confessed that her presence 
in London meant more than an ordinary 
visit. She had plans, but at present 
they were unformed and she did not 
want them talked about. 

1 And I suppose that was why you 
kept away from me. You could not 
trust me to keep your secrets.' 

' Exactly : you would have told 
Maurice, and he would have told all the 
men in his office, and my plans would 
have been all over London before a 
week was out.' 

' But you are going to tell them me 
now?' 

Yes, Cassandra would be communi- 

vol. in. 5 



66 LADY LAURA. 

cative now, since further attempt at 
mystery could only rouse inconvenient 
suspicion. She told Laura that she had 
made up her mind to break away from 
her home life and find some work in 
London by which she could live. Laura 
was surprised at first, then thought it 
the most natural thing in the world. 
Of course all the ways of life at Nant-y- 
Gwyn must be intolerable to Cassan- 
dra. She wondered that she could have 
borne with them so long. It would be 
much better for her to be in London, 
where she could have congenial society 
and be quite honest about her opinions ; 
and it would be so pleasant to have 
her near. But what work was she going 
to do? 

Ah, that was the difficulty. There 
was such a dearth of work for women, 
and what there was was so ill-paid. 

' It is — very,' said Laura. 



LADY LAURA. 67 

{ So say the Annesleys. They feel so 
strongly about it that they are agitating 
for getting women enfranchised. 

1 But will that give them work ? ' 

Cassandra shrugged her shoulders. 

1 They say so. But in the meanwhile 
I am half-expecting to have to give up all 
my plans because I cannot find any work 
on which I can live like a lady.' 

1 And you must live like a lady,' said 
Laura. 

As soon as she had spoken, she 
thought of the Sisters of St. Ursula, who 
lived so unlike ladies, and she wondered 
which was the sincere mood in her, — that 
which envied them half-an-hour ago, or 
that which now decided that Cassandra's 
life must be an easy one. The old habit 
of leaning on her cousin came to her 
help, and she trusted the present mood 
because Cassandra said, * I certainly 
wish to live like a lady.' 



68 LADY LAURA. 

1 Of course you must live like a lady,' 
Laura said again. And then she added 
with a sigh, ' Oh dear me, I wish we 
were rich ; that would make everything 
easy/ 

' I wish J were,' said Cassandra. And 
they both laughed. 

Then Laura said, — 

1 But there can't really be any difficulty 
for you. You are so clever. You could 
make a fortune in fifty ways. You sing, 
play, draw, and do everything better than 
any one else. If I were you I would be 
rich in a year. What do the Annesleys 
advise you to do ? ' 

1 To take two rooms somewhere and 
have classes. I am to teach girls every- 
thing that they ought to know, no 
matter whether I know it myself or 
not.' 

1 To teach ? ' Laura made a face of dis- 
approbation. 



LADY LAURA. 69 

1 And why not teach ? ' 

1 Because you might do something more 
amusing. You might write books, or paint 
pictures, or sing. If I were you, I should 
sing at concerts. 

' I could never give singing-lessons,' 
said Cassandra. ' Pray don't propose that 
again. In the first place I should fail, 
and in the second place I should hate it.' 

1 But why ? ' 

1 Because I am sentimental enough to 
hate the idea of selling the best thing 
about me.' 

' Then you will teach,' said Laura, 
' and I shall come to your classes and 
learn everything I ought to know.' 

1 My classes will be for girls, not for 
married women. And now I am going.' 

* No, you will stay to dinner.' 

1 The Annesleys expect me. Good-bye.' 

She had heard the click of a latch-key in 
the door — Maurice was coming in. She 



70 LADY LAURA. 

had intended to escape before his return. 
That being now impossible, she would 
at least avoid meeting him in Laura's 
presence. It would be less confusing to 
fall in with him on her way out. The 
necessary courtesies of opening the door 
for her and finding her umbrella would 
cover embarrassment. 

They met in the hall, and greeted one 
another with perfect composure. He 
inquired how she was going, and walked 
with her to the nearest cab-stand; and 
as they went they talked of the chances 
of a European war. They might have 
been merest acquaintances. But as he 
closed the cab-door and wished her good- 
bye, he asked if she would be coming to 
see Laura again. She answered that she 
hoped to do so. 

'It will be kind of you,' he said; and 
she turned away with a choking sensa- 
tion in her throat. 



LADY LAURA. 71 

She came again very soon, and on her 
second visit the impression of the first 
was confirmed. She went away satisfied 
that Laura's happiness was complete, and 
that her presence in Chester Place was 
fraught with no danger to the peace of 
the house. So she allowed herself to 
come again and again, taking care how- 
ever to be gone before the hour when 
Maurice habitually returned from his 
office. 

This was at first. Later on she let her- 
self be persuaded to stay to dinner, and 
then the three had very pleasant even- 
ings. The atmosphere was clear, talk 
unembarrassed. Laura's year of married 
life had considerably developed her powers 
of conversation ; she took her part freely, 
and was especially good as a third, while 
Cassandra was excellent as a leader — 
fearless, versatile, original. All the sub- 
jects Laura had grown shy of alluding to> 



72 LADY LAURA. 

were boldly introduced by her. She 
assumed as a matter of course that Heme 
was of unchanged mind on all questions, 
and that Laura was with him. And the 
result was that Laura began to think she 
h ad been the victim of delusions . Maurice 
still meant all he used to say, he was 
only too busy for action just now. 

In a little while Cassandra found suit- 
able lodgings in Wimpole Street, and, from 
the time she was established in them, 
hardly a day passed without a meeting 
between her and Laura. They were con- 
stantly together, reading, walking, talking : 
it was like old times at Nant-y-Gwyn. 
Laura threw herself heartily into Cas- 
sandra's plans and took much trouble to 
get pupils for her. She was busier about 
it than Cassandra herself, and being busy 
— oh tell it not to Sister Edith ! — grew 
quite happy. Things were so changed 
with her that when Whitsuntide came 



LADY LAURA. 73 

she hardly wished to go to Ardgwen 
because it would interfere with her being 
present at Cassandra's first lecture. 

Cassandra had misgivings sometimes, 
but she always silenced them with the 
thought that Laura was quite happy. 
The past was dead for everybody but 
herself — dead and buried beneath their 
happiness. They were safe, and she need 
only think of herself. Why then should 
she cut herself of! from their friendship 
when it made all the difference between 
a life that was bearable and one that 
was not ? She assured herself that there 
was no danger, and resolved to go on as 
she had begun. 

Laura could not quite reconcile herself 
to Cassandra's doing no more brilliant 
work than teaching. She racked her 
brain to think of something else for her, 
and the idea of public readings occurred 
to her. She proposed it one evening at 



74 LADY LAURA. 

dinner. Cassandra did not altogether 
repudiate it. She was conscious of being 
able to read well, and was not insensible 
to the pleasure of doing publicly what 
she excelled in. Her fastidiousness about 
singing professionally was a thing by it- 
self. Singing had associations for her 
that made it unmarketable. But reading 
was different. 

Laura was delighted that her sugges- 
tion should be received with favour, and 
she developed the idea. Cassandra must 
not read quite publicly, but in drawing- 
rooms at evening parties. She would 
begin at Eachel's and become the fashion 
immediately, and her fortune would be 
made. She appealed to Maurice whether 
the idea was not excellent. He thought 
it might answer very well, and began to 
consider what Cassandra might read. 

Laura suggested Shakespeare. But 
Maurice thought that would not do. 



LADY LAURA. 75 

The preponderance of the dramatic ele- 
ment made it a field full of danger for 
any one who had no experience of the 
stage, especially for a woman. Besides, 
everybody had preconceived ideas as to 
how Shakespeare should be read, — she 
would find her audience in the most 
difficult of all critical attitudes. No one 
should attempt Shakespearian readings 
who had not already an established fame. 

Cassandra asked how it would do to 
read from the literature of other lan- 
guages. She was a good linguist, and 
could trust her accent in French, German, 
or Italian. Heme thought better of this 
idea. Society was getting curious about 
foreign literature, and would probably 
jump at an opportunity of improving 
acquaintance with it by listening instead 
of reading. 

The idea was not allowed to drop : it 
grew in favour the more they discussed 



76 LADY LAURA. 

it. Soon Lady Walworth was taken into 
council, and she undertook to sound 
society on the subject. But the result 
was not encouraging. She reported that 
the number of people, wno knew any 
foreign language well enough to care to 
hear readings in it, was too small to be 
depended upon for audiences, and the 
scheme had to be given up, much to 
Cassandra's disappointment. For while 
it was under consideration she had made 
one or two experiments in reading to 
very small audiences at the Hemes' 
house with a success that had been 
decidedly encouraging. She had enjoyed 
the actual reading, and the admiration 
she won had been pleasant to her. It 
had stimulated the appetite for applause 
that made part of her artist nature, and 
was in the ascendant now that other 
sides of her character were under a 
necessity of suppression. She frankly 



LADY LAURA. 77 

recognised that an artistic career of some 
kind would add an element of positive 
enjoyment to her existence, which would 
make the life of work she had chosen far 
more congenial to her than it could be 
otherwise. Her standing in society would 
be the surer for it : it would make her 
valued in the world. And to be valued 
was not less pleasant to her than to most 
people. It was therefore a keen disap- 
pointment to her when the idea of the 
readings had to be abandoned. 

Before long, however, it was revived 
in another form. Gounod's Faust e Mar- 
gherita had just been brought out in 
London, and society, having seen the 
opera, fancied it knew the poem. Every- 
body was talking Faust, Mephistopheles 
was the fashion, and girls whose ears 
might not be denied by mention of real 
Gretchens were appearing at fancy balls 
in the costume of Margherita. 



78 LADY LAURA. 

Cassandra went with Maurice and Laura 
to hear the opera, and they talked of it 
afterwards. Laura was among the many 
who did not know the Faust of Goethe. 
Cassandra insisted that she must read 
it at once. 

i It provokes me,' she said, ' that people 
should see the opera and come away 
thinking it is all that Goethe meant. 
To my mind the meaning of the drama 
is entirely lost when the central interest 
is transferred from Faust to Gretchen. 
It is almost absurd as it stands in the 
opera version, — heaven, earth, and hell 
called into play just to bring about the 
ruin of one poor girl. The machinery 
is out of all proportion to the result. 
Whereas in the original you see that 
Gretchen' s destruction is only one chap- 
ter among many, — the first and the 
saddest perhaps, but still only one among 
many in the history of Faust. He tries 



LADY LAURA. 79 

in turn every experience of life, and 
finds none satisfying till he devotes him- 
self at last to the work of reclaiming 
some marsh lands and making them fit 
for human habitation. While he works 
at this he finds himself happy and wishes 
life would last for ever. And as he 
breathes the wish, his bond with the 
devil is loosed, and he is saved : he has 
found a happiness that is useful to 
mankind. It is a splendid conception, 
the most splendid in all literature, I 
think. It makes me angry to see it 
degraded as it is in this opera version. 
We must read the original together, 
Laura.' 

But Laura's German was not equal to 
the task, and translations were in request. 
Heme had two or three in his library, 
but he had objections to all of them. 

Cassandra wondered whether it was 
possible that he had entirely forgotten 



So LADY LAURA. 

hers, till one day he ended her wonder- 
ing hy speaking of it. 

' You once made a translation of Faust, 1 
he said ; ' it was better than any other 
I ever read. What have you done with 
it?' 

Cassandra told the truth. It was 
finished, and she had lately had thoughts 
of publishing it. Heme said this was 
the very moment for bringing it out, and 
Laura asked her to bring it to their 
house next evening and read it to them. 

Without reflecting, she promised to 
do so. 

She wondered afterwards at having 
so promised. The work was so bound 
up with her past relations with Heme, 
that to read it in his presence could 
not but be dangerous, and, in truth, 
what had deterred her from publishing 
it during the last year, was a shrinking 
from the open reminder that it would 



LADY LAURA. 81 

be to both of them. As she went 
home she thought she would find an 
excuse for not reading it. 

But next evening found her at their 
house, installed in her reading-chair with 
the manuscript before her. 

She had translated the whole work in 
accordance with her view that the first 
part was never meant to stand alone, 
and the work of reading it occupied 
several evenings. 

She had not to complain of any want of 
sympathy in her hearers. Laura was al- 
most as much possessed by the revelation 
of the drama as she had been herself. 
Heme said over and over again that it 
was a work of genius, and that no trans- 
lation that had ever yet been given to 
the world came near it^ It must be 
published at once, and it would make 
her famous. 

None of the three ever knew with 

vol. in. 6 



82 LADY LAURA. 

whom originated the idea that Cassandra 
should give a public reading from this 
translation. But somehow one evening 
they found themselves discussing the 
plan. Cassandra had thought of it often 
and was ready with detail. The whole 
would of course be too long and tedious, 
and moreover many scenes might be 
omitted with advantage from her point 
of view, which was that it was desirable 
to give people an idea of the whole 
scheme of the poem. She proposed to 
read the most characteristic scenes of 
the first part, and then give a sketch of 
the scheme of the second, quoting freely 
from the text, but reading no scene 
except the final one. 

Heme thought the idea excellent. 
The readings would succeed in themselves 
and they would be the best possible 
advertisement for the book when it should 
appear in its entirety. 






LADY LAURA. 83 

( It is a charming plan,' Laura said; 
i and I shall go to-morrow and tell 
Eachel that she must get up a reading 
for you at her house. We will have 
one here first, won't we, Maurice ? And 
the grand performance at Eachel' s will 
take place on the day after. It will be 
delightful ! ' 

Heme was quite of Laura's mind, and 
the thing was considered settled. 

Heme walked home with Cassandra 
that evening, and they talked together 
as they used to talk in the days of their 
early friendship. Suddenly they found 
themselves speaking of the dialogue that 
was to have appeared with the transla- 
tion, and from that they got to Heme's 
own neglected work. Cassandra spoke 
warmly of the importance of completing 
it. He answered in a tone of depression, 
spoke of want of time, of the difficulties 
of his position ; and finally he confessed 



84 LADY LAURA. 

to a growing weariness and scepticism 
that made a truer reason than any of 
the others. Cassandra answered sym- 
pathetically, then suddenly grew re- 
served ; and they finished their way in 
uncomfortable silence. 

She took home with her that night a 
stronger doubt than she had had before 
as to the safety of her present course. 

But next evening brought a note from 
Laura saying that she and Eachel had 
talked over the new plan, and that 
nothing remained but to settle details. 
Would Cassandra come in the evening 
and meet Eachel? 

And once more she said to herself, 
' They are happy : no harm can come.' 
And she went in the evening and let 
Heme walk home with her again. 



CHAPTER III. 

' Life has many silent chapters before that last one we 
call death : of inarticulate communions and suppressed 
sympathies ; of resisted instincts and evaded destinies ; 
of promises given and broken without so much as a 
whisper in the ear ; of swift glancings into that abyss of 
the irrevocable, where all things are made plain in the 
day that is too late.' 

T was arranged that the Faust 
reading should take place 
towards the end of July. 
Laura was eager for an earlier date, 
but there were strong reasons for making 
it as late as possible. 

Cassandra was advised by persons of 
experience not to attempt reading pro- 
fessionally without going through some 
systematic training. Her voice was 




86 LADY LAURA. 

good, and, for an amateur, she was 
rarely skilful in the management of it. 
But she readily appreciated the differ- 
ence between the style of delivery 
demanded by dramatic reading and the 
simpler manner of which her own 
taste had made her master, and she 
believed that she might gain much by 
taking lessons from some person skilled 
in the arts of the stage. Lady Wal- 
worth supported her in this view, the 
more warmly that she had a coach 
to recommend, — a certain Mr. William 
son who lived at Brompton and was 
the most charming man in the world, 
with the most charming wife, and every 
possible recommendation for Cassandra's 
purpose. He had been known to the 
theatre-going world many years ago 
under the name of Meredith Taylor, 
but for a long time he had been living 
in retirement. Lady Walworth was 



LADY LAURA. 87 

not sure whether he still gave lessons 
in a regular way, but she had no doubt 
of his being willing to teach Cassandra 
as a favour to herself. She drove her 
to Brompton at once, and arrange- 
ments were made for a course of 
lessons. 

It was another advantage of putting 
the reading off till late in the season, 
that in the meanwhile Cassandra could 
make way in society. At Lady Wal- 
worth's house she was to be introduced 
to all the most remarkable people in 
London ; and there was little fear of her 
not holding her own among them. She 
was soon very much in request. The 
beautiful Miss Gwynne with the aris- 
tocratic air, who was Lord St. Asaph's 
niece, and yet chose to live in lodgings 
and drudge at teaching school-girls, was a 
sort of heroine of romance, and everybody 
wanted to be introduced to her. Lady 



88 LADY LAURA. 

Walworth was pressed to take her every- 
where. She'created a sensation, and peo- 
ple compared her to historical beauties. 
Then the fame of her voice got abroad, 
and she was persuaded to sing, and 
others made the suggestion Laura had 
once hazarded. But she would not 
listen to it. Her determination was 
firm, she would not put all her gifts 
into the market. People might buy her 
reading, but they should beg for her songs. 
She would accept no bonds in music. 

What with her classes, arid her training 
in reading, and the numerous social 
engagements that her popularity dragged 
her into, her days were very full, and 
as the summer went on she became a 
less frequent visitor in Chester Place. 

Laura missed her and began to feel 
dull again. She taxed her with neglect- 
ing her, and Cassandra laid the blame 
on the pressure of work. She could not 



LADY LAURA, 89 

help herself. It was essential to her 
success that she should go as much as 
possible into society. ' I am making 
friends of the mammon of unrighteous- 
ness,' she said. 

Laura admitted the plea and ga r e a 
sigh of envy. Her own life looked dull 
by the side of Cassandra's brilliant 
career. She felt like a little household 
fire that is killed by the sunshine. The 
old morbid moods came back upon her, 
and one day she made an attempt to 
confide in her cousin. It was shortly 
after she had remonstrated with her on 
her neglect and Cassandra had made 
an effort to come oftener. She had 
come in just as Laura was reading the 
last page of a novel, parting with hero 
and heroine at the steps of the altar, 
and wishing she could know something 
of their after-life. 

1 1 wish,' Laura said, 'that novels did 



90 LADY LAURA. 

not always end at marriage. When I 
have followed people through their love- 
making, I always want to know how 
they got on in their married life. And 
books always assume that that must 
be happy. I doubt whether it is so 
always — don't you ? ' 

i One certainly must suppose that 
there are exceptions, otherwise what 
would the divorce courts be so busy 
about? But on the whole I don't think 
novels about unhappy married life are 
the most edifying. For there are some, 
you know, if you really want to read 
them.' And she mentioned a number 
of books in which the sorrows of matri- 
mony were laid bare. 

' I don't think I meant that kind of 
thing,' said Laura ; ' but it seems to me 
that it would be fairer if novels some- 
times showed the little troubles and diffi- 
culties and disappointments that come 



LADY LAURA. 91 

to married people even when they are fond 
of one another. I think if I wrote novels, 
that is what I should describe.' 

' Then you would do a very wrong 
thing,' said Cassandra, seeing through 
Laura's strictures on novels, and reading 
in a moment that her happiness was not 
so secure as she had hitherto believed it. 
She spoke with sharp en phasis, taking 
care not to meet Laura's eyes. She 
was determined not to be the recipient 
of confidences on the subject of Laura's 
married life. 'You would do a very 
wrong thing,' she said. ' The novelists 
are quite right in generally ending their 
third volume with the wedding Mar- 
riage is a sort of death through which 
people pass into eternal silence. To 
make revelations about one's married 
life is to be a ghost, and those who 
do it deserve the sort of reception we 
give to ghosts.' 



92 LADY LAURA. 

1 What a ghastly comparison ! ' said 
Laura with a shiver. 

' It is rather, but it has taken hold of 
my fancy. Henceforth whenever people 
moan to me about the troubles of their 
married life, I shall tell them they are 
ghosts and ought to go back and lie 
quietly in their graves.' 

Laura was glad she had not rushed 
into more direct confidence. She changed 
the subject, and during the rest of Cas- 
sandra's visit she lost no opportunity of 
saying affectionate things about her 
husband which might undo the effect 
her words had evidently had. 

But her artifices were vain. Cas- 
sandra's eyes, once opened, were not to 
be easily closed. As she walked away 
from the house, she recognised with a 
sense of terror that the perfect sympathy 
between Laura and Heme, to which she 
had trusted as a safe foundation for her 



LADY LAURA. 93 

own future, was an illusion. Laura was 
sad at heart. Heme was probably dis- 
appointed also, and her position, as 
their friend, might at any moment be- 
come dangerous. She saw him coming 
along the street, and she crossed to the 
other side of the way in order to avoid 
meeting him. 

Next day she kept away from Chester 
Place in spite of a pathetic note from 
Laura saying that she was still unwell 
and would be obliged to give up a party 
in Arlington Street. Cassandra sent 
word that she was too busy to come, 
and spent the afternoon in an object- 
less ramble through back streets where 
she was unlikely to meet friends. 

The party in Arlington Street was to be 
an event in Cassandra's career. Lady 
Walworth had so timed the issue of the 
circulars advertising the Faust reading 
that they would be in the hands of all 



94 LADY LAURA. 

her friends before they assembled at her 
house that evening. They would come 
full of curiosity on the subject, and 
would be glad to meet Cassandra. Then 
there was to be a musical performance 
by several amateurs, among whom Cas- 
sandra was to be the chief star. She 
was to entrance her audience and send 
everybody home determined to come 
and hear her read. That was Lady 
Walworth's plan, communicated some 
days before to Cassandra, who was 
pledged to make it succeed. 

Cassandra arrived late and was chidden 
by her hostess for so doing. 

'Everybody is asking for you. You 
are the heroine of the evening. I have 
had fifty petitions for tickets for the 
28th. Petitions, if you please. London 
is on its knees for the privilege of hear- 
ing you. You will have an ovation. Let 
me introduce you to the Princess ' 



LADY LAURA.' 95 

Cassandra was introduced to the 

Princess , and heard that she was 

coming to her reading. 

1 1 have heard so much of your reading 
from common friends,' she said. 'It 
is very good of you to give us all an 
opportunity of hearing it. Let me 
present my husband to you. He admires 
your singing greatly. He heard you 
here at the beginning of the season 
and has raved about you ever since.' 

It was time for the musical perform- 
ance ; Cassandra was led to her place by 
the Prince. She bowed like a queen as 
he seated her by the piano, and thanked 
him with an absent air. Then she turned 
to the instrument and swept her hands 
over the keys ; and in a moment she had 
forgotten Prince and everybody present. 

Lady Walworth had distributed written 
programmes among her guests, as a hint 
that the singing was to be attended to 



96 LADY LAURA. 

seriously. Cassandra had promised to 
begin with 'Auf Fliigeln des Gesanges.' 
It was one of her most popular songs, 
and she knew people were counting 011 it. 
But it was impossible to sing it. She 
remembered the night at Ardgwen when 
it had lifted her into heaven and 
brought Heme back to her. It could 
not bring him back now, nor could it 
carry her to heaven. Music had ceased 
to be a sanctuary closed against pain. 
Her trouble pursued her into it. She 
would be in hell while she sang of 
heaven. She would sing something 
else, and let people say what they liked. 

She chose the song of Sappho from 
Eossi's opera, c Ah rendimi quel core,' 
and gave the rein to her emotions. The 
song was a perfect expression of them, 
and the effect upon the audience was 
overwhelming. Sappho herself could 
not have sung her sorrows with more 



LADY LAURA. 97 

real passion. Strangers were taken by 
storm, and those who knew her singing 
best were startled. 

The Prince said to his wife, l Did I not 
tell you she was a miracle ? It is as 
if all the pains of mankind had found 
voice at last and were singing their story 
from the beginning of the world up till 
now.' 

'It is terrible,' answered the Princess; 
' one's heart aches to think what she 
must have suffered. — Ah, Mr. Heme, I 
did not see you before. I hope you were 
in time to hear the song.' 

Heme passed on with a bow. He had 
been in time to hear it from the door, — 
he was on his way to the piano. 

Cassandra thought she started at sight 
of him. But she was outwardly motion- 
less. The only change perceptive in 
her was a relaxation of the tense expres- 
sion her brow had borne while she sang. 

vol. in. 7 



98 LADY LAURA. 

She held out her hand to him and 
said, — 

1 So you are here after all. I hope 
Laura is better.' 

' She is better. She would not let me 
stay with her/ 

Cassandra made no answer. Her eyes 
fell guiltily. She would have given worlds 
to know whether he had been in time to 
hear her sing. But for worlds she could 
not ask him. 

Somebody said, 'You did well to dis- 
regard the programme. You are never 
so great as in " Ah rendimi." You were 
supreme in it to-night.' 

1 It was a sudden caprice. I took 
fright at " Wings of Song" as I sat 
down, and, as you say, I know I 
can always trust myself in " Ah rendi- 



mi." ' 



Heme was still standing by her. She 
tried to look him frankly in the face, but 



LADY LAURA. 99 

again her eyes fell, and she was conscious 
of blushing deeply. 

< Let me take you downstairs/ he said ; 
1 this room is stifling.' 

She rose involuntarily, and was putting 
her arm in his when she saw Lady Mary's 
eye fixed unpleasantly upon them from 
the other end of the room — she was 
watching them with evident suspicion. 
Cassandra drew back and declined refresh- 
ments. She would stay where she was. 

Heme pressed her. But she was reso- 
lute, and she turned away from him to 
receive compliments from others. Then, 
in a moment, she repented, and asked him 
to take her down. It seemed to her that, 
if she gave way now to this foolish self- 
consciousness, she would never be easy 
in his presence again. It was a feeling 
that must be overcome at once, unless 
she meant to go back from all her plans 
and break openly with him and Laura. 



ioo LADY LAURA. 

They passed close to Lady Mary on their 
way down, and Cassandra made a point 
of stopping to speak to her. 

Lady Mary asked pointedly after Laura, 
and Heme made the same answer to her 
that he had given Cassandra five minutes 
ago. 

The refreshment room was hotter than 
the drawing-room and more crowded. 
They looked in and turned away. 

1 Come out into the air,' Heme said, 
and he led her into the garden behind 
the house. 

The night was sultry, and heavy with 
the scent of flowers. A fountain was 
playing in the moonlight. Another 
couple crossed them as they went out — 
a young girl in a white gowTi leaning on 
a man's arm. She was saying, — 

' I wish she had not sung. There was 
something in her voice that troubled me — 
it will haunt me. And she looked so sad.' 






LADY LAURA. 101 

The man answered lightly. 

' She sings magnificently, and she's a 
great actress — the trouble was not hers, 
but Sappho's. — But hush! . . . .' 

He had caught sight of them, and he 
stopped abruptly. 

Cassandra looked up at Heme — their 
eyes met; hers fell again in an instant, 
and she withdrew her arm from his. 

' What are you going to do ? ' he 
asked. 

She started. 

' I ? — oh, I don't know. It is hot, 
suffocatingly hot. Don't you find it so ? ' 

' 1 thought you would like to walk a 
little.' 

She took his arm again, and they 
walked up and down for some minutes; 
and, when they came back to the 
drawing-room and Cassandra tried to 
remember of what they had spoken, she 
discovered that they had been silent. 



102 LADY LAURA. 

She had not realised it at the time, — the 
silence had been drowned by the tumult 
of her emotions. Heme took her back 
to the piano and seemed disposed to stay- 
by her while she sang. She felt his 
presence like an oppressive atmosphere. 
It seemed to choke her — she could not 
find voice for a single note. 

' Please go,' she murmured, and he left 
her side ; and, by the time she had ended 
her song, he was gone altogether. 

The rest of the evening passed like a 
triumph. She was introduced to one 
person after another till she was in hope- 
less confusion as to the names of her new 
acquaintance and in danger of going to 
luncheon with people who had asked her 
to dinner, and to dinner with people who 
wanted to see her at live o'clock tea. 
Lady Walworth kept her till all the 
other guests were gone, and embraced her 
rapturously as soon as they were alone. 



LADY LAURA. 103 

I You were perfect,' she said with en- 
thusiasm. ' Your success is sure. You 
must stay at home all to-morrow after- 
noon. Everybody is going to call on 
you.' 

'I shall be busy with my class to- 
morrow afternoon,' said Cassandra. 
( Everybody will have to be content with 
leaving cards.' 

'Better and better. Duchesses will 
drive up to your lodging and be told that 
you cannot see them because you are 
engaged in teaching half-a-dozen school- 
girls. That's what I call a triumph 
of genius. I shall not like you half so 
well when you have made a fortune and 
set up a carriage. By-the-by, how are 
you thinking of getting home to-night ? 
Everybody, who might have taken you, 
is gone. Are you expecting a Cinderella's 
coach ? ' 

I I am trusting to a cab. You know 



104 LADY LAURA. 

that I always come and go indepen- 
dently. May I ring and ask for one ? ' 

1 Certainly. But, dear me, it was a 
success beyond anything I ever dreamed 
of! Do you know what Burrell Jones 
said after your first song ? ' 

1 No/ said Cassandra absently. 

' Don't pretend not to care. Burrell 
Jones is the greatest man in London — at 
least he might have been if we had not 
spoiled him. His opinion is worth hav- 
ing. Confess that you want to hear it.' 

< 1 do.' 

1 Well then, he said that he never con- 
ceived it possible before that he should 
envy a woman, but that he would give 
all he had to be able to move a congre- 
gation as you moved us to-night.' 

Cassandra smiled. 

' And I think I would give all I am ever 
likely to have for the chance of moving a 
congregation instead of an audience.' 



LADY LAURA. 105 

The servant had answered the bell and 
was waiting for orders. Eachel had for- 
gotten for what they had rung. 

1 What was it we wanted, Cassandra ? ' 

' A four-wheeled cab to take me home, 
if you please.' 

The servant left the room, and Eachel 
burst out laughing. 

1 You can't go home in a cab by your- 
self.' 

1 Why not ? ' 

1 Because it is preposterous — out of 
the question. Why did Maurice Heme 
desert you ? He is your recognised 
knight. It is unpardonable of him.' 

' Maurice went early. Laura is not 
well.' 

'Ah, true, I had forgotten. One for- 
gets everything on nights like this. But 
all the same you cannot go alone.' 

1 Certainly not,' said Lord Walworth; 
1 1 will go with her.' 



106 LADY LAURA. 

Cassandra accepted the escort grate- 
fully. She talked politics brilliantly 
above the rattle of the cab as they drove 
together to her lodging, and left Lord 
Walworth on the doorstep amazed at her 
versatility, and wondering how he had 
never discovered before what an astonish- 
ing genius his wife's cousin was. 

And then, having let herself in with a 
latch-key, she crept up to her room and 
threw herself sobbing on her bed. 



CHAPTEE IV. 

1 Surely my strength shall be in her, my help and protec- 
tion about her ; 

Surely in inner- sweet gladness and vigour of joy shal 
sustain her, 

Till, the brief winter o'erpast, her own true sap in the 
spring-tide 

Rise, and the tree I have bared be verdurous e'en as 
aforetime.' 

ASSANDBA used to go three 
times a week to Brompton for 
her lesson from Mr. William- 
son. And before going home after it, 
she habitually turned into Kensington 
Gardens and spent an hour or so in 
walking up and down under the trees, 
reading over the passages she had 
studied in her lesson, and considering the 
suggestions of her master. 




108 LADY LAURA. 

These walks among the great trees 
were very pleasant to her — her day had 
no happier hour than that which was 
so spent. She enjoyed her lessons from 
the old actor, who was proud of her and 
took infinite pains to make her perfect 
at all points, and generally ended his 
instructions hy telling her that she would 
soon know far more than he could teach 
her, and that next season she would be 
amused to think she had been his pupil. 
She had a filial feeling towards the old 
man, and found an innocent refreshment 
in dwelling on the interest he took in 
her success. It seemed a purer thing 
to her than most of the admiration she 
received, and she felt that her best 
work was done under its influence. It 
roused the nobler side of the artist in 
her by setting before her a perfection 
she recognised as beyond her. The 
very humiliation of having her short- 



LADY LAURA. 109 

comings pointed out was welcome as 
a counterweight to the ignorant praises 
of which she received so many. She 
rejoiced that there were difficulties to he 
overcome and courted ruggednesses in 
her work. They were welcome to her as 
tests of her seriousness, as means of 
convincing herself that she was an artist 
in earnest, and not a mere dilettante in 
love with nothing of art but the applause 
it wins. She was in truth very hungry 
for anything that might feed her self- 
respect and help her to hold her head up 
before the world. 

For the sense of guilt to which she 
had awakened on the evening of Lady 
Walworth's party had never left her 
since. In vain she argued with herself 
that she was doing no wrong, that her 
relations with Heme were pure, her 
conduct to Laura loyal; she could not 
rid herself of the sense of guilt that 



no LADY LAURA. 

had made her glance fall abashed before 
his in spite of three successive efforts 
to look hirn simply in the face. She 
had tried more than once to disregard 
her embarrassment and talk freely with 
him ; but conversation invariably drifted 
dangerously, or ended abruptly in an 
oppressive silence. She was uneasy in 
his presence, restless in his absence. 
She avoided his house as much as 
possible, only going when Laura's in- 
vitations were too pressing to admit of 
denial, and always coming away before 
he returned. 

Once or twice she had thought that 
Laura's manner was changed to her, and 
had felt that it would be almost a relief 
to be reproached by her, and so have 
occasion for an open quarrel that would 
put an end to the doubtful position in 
which she now stood. But Laura's cold- 
ness — if coldness it really were — was 



LADY LAURA. in 

always quickly followed by some special 
manifestation of affection, and Cassandra 
came to the conclusion that the change 
she fancied had no existence outside her 
imagination. So long as Laura prayed 
her to come and see her, it could not be 
wrong to go, for her conscience absolved 
her of in any way seeking the attentions 
of Heme : she knew that she consist- 
ently repelled them. She couid not 
hinder him from admiring her singing. 
And after all, had he said a thousandth 
part in praise of it of what all her world 
was saying ? Would not absolute silence 
have been far more marked? Was it 
not insanity on her part to think so 
much of a word from him when he was 
only one in a large chorus? Would 
she not learn indifference in time, and 
be glad by-and-by, when she had 
conquered this woman's weakness, that 
she had not given occasion to scandal 



ii2 LADY LAURA. 

by a self- condemning retreat ? Such 
questions were continually with her. 
She could not answer them. She simply 
went on in spite of them. 

However, they did not pursue her 
into Kensington Gardens. That was 
her place of peace and holy influence. 
She felt an innocent woman as she paced 
up and down among the glades, absorbed 
in her manuscript. And frequenters of 
the spot who came to know her by sight 
and to look for her at her usual hour, 
never dreamed that any trouble haunted 
her, and though they observed that she 
avoided notice as much as possible, they 
thought it was only that she might 
pursue her studies undisturbed. 

But one evening, as she was so engaged, 
she started suddenly and felt the blood 
rush to her cheeks at the sound of a 
footstep gaining upon her from behind. 
She tightened the roll of her manuscript 



LADY LAURA. 113 

and hastened on. Her pursuer hastened 
also, and in another minute was beside 
her. 

1 Why have you done this ? ' she said, 
without lifting her eyes from the ground. 

Heme did not answer, but walked 
by her side in silence. 

She made a conventional remark on 
the sweetness of the evening, to which 
he replied conventionally. Then they 
were silent again. He led her deeper 
into the grove, and she followed his lead 
in painful expectation. 

He touched the roll of manuscript in 
her hand, and said, ' You were studying 
your Faust. Will you let me look at it ? ' 

She let him take the paper from her, 
and he began reading aloud from it. 

' Do you remember the day you wrote 
that ? ' he said. 

4 It was about this time of the year/ 
she answered, ' a beautiful summer 

vol. in. 8 



U4 LADY LAURA. 

evening. We were sitting under the 
ash-tree that leans over the stream on 
the south side of the park. I remember 
it. But it would be better to forget.' 

1 It is not possible to forget,' said 
Heme. 

Cassandra was silent. He read on, 
and with every line a picture from the 
past rose before her eyes. 

' No,' she said; < it is not possible to 
forget.' 

1 But you thought I had forgotten.' 
1 You gave me reason to believe so. 

Of what use is it to remember if ' 

She did not complete the sentence : a 
sob choked her speech. 

He took her hand and held it. 
' You were going to say, if one is not 
loyal to that which one remembers.' 

< I do not know what I was going to 
say. It is better to say nothing, I think. 
Maurice, it is better that we should not 



LADY LAURA. 115 

meet. Why have you followed me here 
to-night? This has been my place of 
refuge, — the only place that was not 
poisoned for me by thoughts of which 
I am ashamed, — and now you have 
spoiled it. It is cruel of you ! ' 

' Forgive me,' he said, ' or at any rate 
let me tell you w T hy I came. Will you 
listen, or is my presence intolerable 
to you ? Painful I know it must be, 
but can you bear it for a few minutes? 
I came here on your account, Cassandra. 
I had that to say which I thought might 
be for your happiness.' 

1 It is too late to think of my happi- 
ness,' she said bitterly. ' You have 
Laura's happiness to care for, not mine.' 

' I know that,' he answered ; ' I am 
not unmindful of Laura's happiness. 
But is that any reason why I should 
cease to care for yours ? We agreed, 
I think, that it is impossible to forget.' 



u6 LADY LAURA. 

There was a hard tension in his 
manner that frightened her. 

1 Maurice,' she said, in low suppli- 
cating tones, ' what do you want with 
me ? What can he the use of such 
meetings as this ? What happiness can 
come of them ? I implore you to leave 
me. The past is past. The only course 
for us, that is not absolutely mad, is to 
let it alone for ever. Every word you 
say to me, every moment you remain 
here, makes my life more difficult, my 
position more shameful. ' 

She had withdrawn her hand from 
his when she began to speak, and she 
was standing now at a few paces from 
him. He made no effort to detain her, 
or even to lessen the distance between 
them. She half turned as if to go. 
Then she hesitated and stood still. If a 
gulf had opened in the earth to separate 
them she would have broken out in thanks, 



LADY LAURA. 117 

but she could not of her own will go 
from him. A perceptible interval elapsed 
before he spoke again. Then he said, — 

' I have no right to resent any sus- 
picion you may entertain with regard 
to me. I have behaved ill to you. I 
deserve that you should think me capable 
of anything.' 

' There is no use in this/ she said ; 
' what was it that you came to say ? ' 

* You give me leave to tell vou ? ' 

1 Yes, yes — only be quick.' 

' I will be quick, only let us sit down. 
Here in this open pathway we are liable 
to be seen from either end. Come under 
the trees.' 

He spoke imperatively, and she felt 
constrained to obey. She followed him, 
hanging her head low in shame. To what 
depth had she fallen that she must skulk 
out of sight with Laura's husband ? 

But she would not sit down. She 



n8 LADY LAURA. 

stood erect before him and once more 
begged him to speak quickly. 

'I have behaved ill to you/ he repeated. 

'Yes, yes,' she said, hardly knowing 
what she said. ' But it is useless to 
talk of that now, if indeed it be not 
useless to talk at all.' 

' You gave me leave.' 

1 1 gave you leave — yes. Because you 
have made it a matter of indifference 
to me now what happens or what is 
said. Do you think I can go back 
among my friends after this meeting 
with you? Do you think I can look 
Laura in the face and not sink to the 
earth with shame at the memory of how 
her husband pursued me to remind me of 
what every thought of honour forbids me 
to think of ? Do you expect to meet me 
to-night at Eachel's ? .... But after 
all I think I ought to thank you. You 
have decided everything. I have thought 



LADY LAURA. 119 

a thousand times that the best thing I 
could do was to disappear. You have 
made it the only thing I can do. Yes, 
you have done the best thing for my 
happiness. Oh, Maurice, is this how 
men care for the women they love ? ' 

1 Cassandra,' he said in a voice of 
intense pain, ' I have no right to resent 
anything you may say. I only ask you 
for your own sake to listen. I do care 
for your happiness. If I did not, I should 
not be here now.' 

' I will listen,' she said ; ' only in mercy 
be quick.' 

He drew nearer to her, and she did 
not move away. He took her hand 
again, and she let him lead her to the 
seat she had refused a minute ago. But 
he did not sit down beside her. He 
leaned against a tree at a little distance. 
She should not have occasion to start 
away from him again. 



i2o LADY LAURA. 

He went straight to the point. 

' I have suspected,' he said, ' what 
was passing in your mind. I have been 
haunted by the fear that some day we 
should lose sight of you. I have seen 
your trouble, and I knew you well enough 
to guess that, of the two ways out of it, 
the likeliest for you to choose was the 
most unselfish. You were not likely 
to stay where you thought your presence 
might bring sorrow. You were only too 
likely to take steps that would make all 
your future intolerable. You see I did 
you justice.' 

' More than justice,' Cassandra said 
humbly. ' I knew I ought to go, but I 
had not courage.' 

* You were right to stay.' 

She shook her head. 

' Yes, you were right.' 

'It does not much matter,' she said. 
1 It is over now. You have ended it.' 



LADY LAURA. 121 

1 No, it is not over, and I have not 
ended it.' 

She had fixed her eyes on him for a 
moment with a dull stare. Now, her 
look went beyond him — away, through 
the trees, to a spot where a bit of the 
Serpentine gleamed in the sunlight. He 
followed her glance and felt confirmed in 
a suspicion that had been haunting him. 

' Cassandra,' he said, ' swear to me 
that you will never think of that again.' 

1 It must end,' she said. 

'For my sake, if not for your own, 
swear to me that you will give up that 
thought. Think of the unutterable 
agony that it would be to me to know 
that you had done that, and that I had 
brought you to it. I have behaved ill to 
you. I have been weak, contemptibly 
weak — I have hurt you. I know it, and 
I loathe myself for it — I know that I 
deserve punishment, but not such bitter 



122 LADY LAURA. 

punishment as that. Cassandra, I will 
not bear that. Do yon know that the 
thought of that water, and of you walking 
up and down by it alone and wretched, 
has been haunting me night and day? 
You said just now that this place had 
been a refuge for you full of good in- 
fluences. I have been near you every 
evening since one day when I saw you 
linger on the bridge.' 

' I was watching the setting sun,' said 
Cassandra. ' I never thought of the water. 
I am fond of life. It seems odd, does it 
not, after all that has happened? I 
wonder at it myself very often, but it is 
so. I cannot help it.' 

' Oh, do not try,' he said in a full low 
tone that thrilled her with a sudden joy. 

The words were very simple, but they 
breathed relief from a horror beyond 
words. They were a thanksgiving, a 
prayer, a revelation. As she looked up 



LADY LAURA. 123 

for an instant and met his eyes, she knew 
that at last he loved her as she had 
desired to be loved by him. Their spirits 
had found their true relation : she was 
woman to him as he was man to her. 
Other men might wonder at her genius 
and wince under her judgments. He 
had done so before now : he would 
not do it again. He thought of her as 
weak and suffering — in mortal danger, 
needing the protection of his love — and 
all his manhood burned to serve and 
comfort her. He asked to take the 
burden of her life upon him. Nay, he 
had done so already. He had pursued 
her like a watchful Providence, making 
an atmosphere of rest in which she had 
walked confidently, not knowing to what 
influence she owed her peace. 

And he was Laura's husband. . . . 

She knew it, but not at once would she 
realise all that the fact involved. For 



124 LADY LAURA. 

a moment she must resign herself to the 
bliss of being loved by him. She had 
walked lonely all her life till now: she 
would walk lonely for the rest of her days. 
But this oasis should yield its quickening 
draught ere she rose up and resumed her 
weary way. And so for one moment her 
heart rested in the forbidden joy, securely 
as though the dream might last for ever. 
But the distance between them was un- 
diminished, and quickly she awoke to the 
sad reality. His love had come too late : 
he owed it to another. He had no right 
to care for her. She must tell him so. 
She must rebuke him and turn away. 
Only she could not do it yet, for he had 
given her one instant of such joy as out- 
weighed all the suffering his love had 
brought her. And the first thanks of 
her heart were for his love, the second 
only for the forbearance that saved it 
from being an insult. 



LADY LAURA. 125 

There was a great gentleness in her 
yoice when she spoke next. 

' And you have been here before/ she 
said, ' always — when I thought I was 
alone. But there was no danger. I 
never thought of the water. I am fond 
of life, oh, so fond of it ! I think I love 
it for the sake of all that I have dreamed 
possible.' 

'You love it,' said Heme, 'for the 
sake of what you make it. That is what 
I wanted to put to you. You make life 
a nobler thing for all of us. We are 
better for having you. You have a right 
to the satisfaction of knowing that. The 
happiness it brings you is a pure and 
holy thing. You would be doing wrong 
in flying from it.' 

' I should be doing right in flying from 
you.' 

'You cannot fly from me and not fly 
from all your friends.' 



126 LADY LAURA. 

1 Then I must fly from all my friends.' 

1 Why must you ? You have nothing to 
fear from me. Have I not told you that 
I have heen here a dozen times at least, 
watching you while you walked up and 
down, till I know every tree in this grove 
by heart, and yet I have not troubled 
you? What can you have to fear from 
me ? Am I such a low beast, Cassandra, 
that the woman I love and honour so 
that .... God ! what can I say to make 
you know what I feel towards you ? Is 
it conceivable that you are not safe with 
me when all I care for is your safety ? ' 

i It is not you, I fear ; it is myself,' she 
said. 

'And how can you best escape from 
yourself? By cutting yourself off from 
everything you care for in life, — from 
your own people, from society, from the 
work in which you delight, — and living 
somewhere out of sight, doing no one 



LADY LAURA. 127 

knows what, among people who care 
nothing for you ? The notion is insane, 
inhuman. You would be the first to say 
so if it were proposed for any one but 
yourself. Confess that such a life would 
be intolerable to you.' 

She would not confess it, but she could 
not deny it. It was too terribly true. 

He went on, — 

I You see you cannot contradict me. 
Such an existence would be death to 
you, and you are fond of life. And the 
only alternative is to go on in the course 
you have wisely chosen.' 

' It is a course full of danger,' she said. 

I I swear to you that there shall be no 
danger.' 

1 But there is danger all the same.' 

' Not more danger than is inseparable 

from any life that is worth having. To 

seek a life without danger is to ask to be 

a child again, or a stick, or a stone. 



128 LADY LAURA. 

How many people here in London do 
you suppose are living a life without 
danger? — Not one man and hardly a 
woman. A handful of girls perhaps, and 
they the least alive of all the herd. You 
know this as well as I do.' 

'You speak of outward danger. That 
is not what I fear. It is the feeling of 
guilt that I cannot be rid of. I am 
ashamed to look Laura in the face.' 

' You are doing Laura no wrong/ 

1 Would she say so if she saw us now ? ' 

He was silent for a few seconds. 

Then he said, 'You are looking at 
the thing from an ideal standpoint and 
aiming at solutions that have become 
impossible. I have behaved ill. Things 
have gone wrong. They can never be 
wholly righted, but perhaps we may make 
them better. . . .' 

Cassandra interrupted him. 

< Things will be better when I am gone.' 



LADY LAURA. 129 

1 By God, no ! ' he cried with a violence 
that startled her. ' Wrong is not righted 
by being made complete and infinite. 
That you should be utterly sacrificed, 
cannot be the right way of atonement.' 

' I am the only one who .can go/ she 
said. There was a helpless smile upon 
her face, in which he read the bitterness 
of despair and the irony of it. 

1 Spare me that smile, Cassandra/ he 
said ; ' its reproach kills me.' 

1 I meant no reproach. I meant 
nothing beyond what I said — that I am 
the only one who can go, and that I had 
better go at once.' 

' But you must not go ; believe me, you 
need not go. It ought to be possible for 
us to be friends. Any other supposition 
is a slander upon both of us — upon all 
that we have been to one another — all 
that we are.' 

She shook her head, and again she 

vol. hi. 9 



t 3 o LADY LAURA. 

smiled the smile that was intolerable to 
him. 

1 Do not smile like that. Listen to 
me — I could convince you if you would 
listen to me.' 

i I will listen,' she said. 

1 You will not misunderstand me if I 
seem to speak coldly,' he said. ' You will 
know that it is only because a common- 
sense tone is wisest and safest.' 

' Say what you like,' she said, holding 
out her hand to him. ' Oh, Maurice, you 
talk of reproach and forgiveness and of 
having behaved ill, and it all sounds 
meaningless to me. I could not reproach 
you if I would. If I could, everything 
would have been different. Say what 
you like, and ... do what you will.' 

He pressed her hand silently. 

' Tell me what is the common-sense 
view of the position,' she said, feeling 
that he had still a difficulty in speaking. 



LADY LAURA. 131 

He hesitated no longer, but said 
quietly — 

' I think it is this. Laura is much 
happier for seeing you often at our 
house. She would be unhappy if you 
ceased to come. She would be absolutely 
miserable if she knew why you ceased to 
come. You are happier for coming. No 
one is injured by your presence. By 
ceasing to come you would be sacrificing 
yourself in vain. — Have you ever thought 
of what it might be to give up every- 
thing and then awake some day to find 
that the world was only the poorer for 
your loss? There is no remorse more 
terrible.' 

' 1 know it,' groaned Cassandra ; ' it 
is heU ! ' 

i It is such a hell that you are prepar- 
ing for yourself when you talk of dis- 
appearing from among us. It cannot 
be your duty to fly, when flight means 



132 LADY LAURA. 

starvation for your own soul and misery 
for others.' 

1 It cannot be right to stay while I feel 
as I do towards you.' 

1 And will mere absence prevent our 
feeling as we do towards one another? 
If you disappeared from among us to- 
morrow, do you suppose that I should 
cease to think of you? I should not 
rest till I knew where you were, I should 
watch over you as I have done now, I 
would know day by day whether it was 
well with you. And you would think of 
me. We could not help it, either of us. 
If to care for one another is a sin, it is a 
sin we must carry with us to our graves. 
It is useless to say we must go here or 
go there because a feeling that has become 
part of our lives is sinful. We should 
take it with us, and only be sinners in 
one place instead of another/ 

Cassandra looked up in sad reproach. 



LADY LAURA. 133 

' Oh, why did not you think of all this 
before ? ' 

' Because you were too great for me, 
and I was a fool and coward.' 

' 1 was a fool too,' Cassandra said. 
' But we will not reproach one another.' 

'It is sweeter to forgive,' he said. 'You 
do forgive rne ? ' He waited a moment 
for her to answer, but she was silent. As 
she had said a moment ago, forgiveness 
from her to him had no meaning for her. 
She did not know how to forgive him. 
She only knew that she loved him and 
that she must not say so. He said 
again, 'You do forgive me, and you 
will let me make such poor atonement 
as is in my power — you will trust my 
friendship, Cassandra ? You will not any 
longer be afraid in my presence ? Hence- 
forth I am your friend — your brother, and 
I have a right to care for my sister. Is 
it not so ? ' 



i 3 4 LADY LAURA. 

He was standing close to her no^ 
speaking low, waiting with trembling 
hope for her reply. She lifted her eyes 
to him for one moment ; then she turner 
away her face and held out her hand: 
to him without speaking. He took them 
in his and kissed them. She had sur- 
rendered, but she hardly acknowledge 
it to herself. 

c You promise me not to run away ? ' 
he said. ' You will stay among us and 
trust me — trust yourself ? ' 

' I will stay/ she said. 

'And you will come to-night to 
Kachel's ? ' 

She bowed her head. 

' And I may see you home now ? ' 

1 As you like.' 

'It is the simplest course,' he said, 
* You trust me, and are not ashamed of 
being seen with me.' 

She rose without another word, anu 



LADY LAURA. 135 

put her arm in his, and walked with him 
to the gate of the gardens. Further she 
would not let him go with her. She 
pleaded fatigue, and begged him to get 
her a cab. 

At the moment of their parting it 
happened that Lady Walworth and Lady 
Mary Vane drove by. Maurice was 
raising his hat to Cassandra — she was 
bending slightly forward in acknowledg- 
ment. The cab went on, and he stood 
a moment looking after it. 

1 There is Maurice Heme,' said Eachel, 
nodding and waving her hand to him; 
1 but he does not see us. He is absorbed 
in contemplation of a four-wheeled cab/ 

1 Did you notice the lady in the cab ? ' 
asked the other. 

1 No ; was she very beautiful ? I will 
ask Maurice about her to-night.' 

< It was Cassandra,' said Lady Mary; 
and her voice could not have been 



1 36 LADY LAURA. 

more awful if she had said, ' It was 
the devil.' 

' Cassandra — what then ? ' said Lady 
Walworth innocently. 

But Lady Mary vouchsafed no answer. 

Cassandra kept her promise and came 
to Arlington Street in the evening. The 
party was smaller than usual, and rather 
a dull one. She was importuned to sing, 
but she persistently refused. 

' Take care,' said Lady Walworth ; 
1 one may give oneself airs too soon. It 
will be time for you to be capricious after 
the 28th. Now, you must be all amiable 
condescension. Do sing. Everybody is 
bored.' 

' I would if I could,' said Cassandra ; 
'but I am not well — my head is splitting. 
I should have been wiser not to come.' 

' Poor thing ! You have been over- 
working yourself, and forgetting to eat 
and drink, I daresay. I declare, women, 



LADY LAURA. 137 

when they live by themselves, are even 
more helpless than men. You look 
starved — I will wager you have had no 
dinner to-night.' 

Cassandra smiled confirmation. It was 
true that she had had no dinner — she had 
felt no inclination for food on coming in. 
She said she had over-tired herself, and 
that the best thing she could do now was 
to go home to bed. 

' Not till you have had some food,' 
said Eachel. ' You do not leave my 
house without supper. I shall send 
you down with Maurice Heme and 
instruct him to feed you like a baby — 
here he is.' 

Heme was passing close by them. He 
was making his way towards Laura, who 
was sitting by Lady Mary on a sofa in 
the back room. She had expressed a 
wish to go early, and he thought she 
would probably be ready to leave now. 



i 3 8 LADY LAURA. 

He had carefully avoided Cassandra 
throughout the evening, only speaking 
the word or two, on coming in, which it 
would have been significant to omit. He 
pretended now not to observe her, though 
, he was so near her that he had difficulty 
in not treading on her gown as he 
threaded his way through the group of 
which she made one. 

Lady Walworth laid her hand on his 
arm and stopped him. 

' I was just looking for you/ she said. 
' Cassandra is starving, and I want you 
to take her down to get some food/ 

4 Can I do anything for you ? ' he 
asked, speaking direct to Cassandra. 

< Don't consult her,' said Lady Wal- 
worth ; ' she is under my orders and so 
are you. You must take her down and 
give her champagne and chicken. She 
has been working hard and forgetting to 
eat ; and she will be laid up in a day or 



LADY LAURA. 139 

two if she is not taken in hand. Take 
her down and make her eat.' 

1 What am I to do ? ' said Heme, still 
speaking to Cassandra. 

He would not offer her his arm without 
her permission — she should have free 
opportunity of reconsidering her promise 
of the afternoon. She understood him, 
and determined to be equally honourable ; 
she had promised to trust him, and she 
would not go back from her word. She 
answered, — 

'I think we must do what we are 
told. I believe Eachel is right — chicken 
and champagne are a good foundation for 
success. ' 

They went down together, and she let 
him go through the form of getting 
refreshments for her. But she could 
not eat them. Her headache was 
genuine, and he forbore to persecute 
her. 



Ho LADY LAURA. 

1 You would rather I got you a cab than 
anything else ? ' he said. 

1 Thank you, yes. I am very tired — 
you must tell Kachel that I supped 
heartily and then thought myself free 
to go.' 

He found her cloak and helped her 
to escape. As he was going upstairs, he 
was caught by Lord Walworth, who 
detained him for some minutes. The delay 
was annoying ; he thought Laura might 
be getting impatient; it was later than 
she had meant to stay. He broke away 
as soon as he could, and hurried to the 
drawing-room, made a short explanation 
to Eachel, and then went in search of his 
wife. She was still on the sofa looking 
pale and tired. Her face seemed to 
reproach him, but he could not tell 
whether its reproach was intentional. 
Her words, when he reached her, showed 
that it was. She said, — 



LADY LAURA. 141 

1 1 thought we were going early ; it is 
half-past eleven, and I am so tired. ' 

'I was coming to you half-an-hour 
ago,' he answered, 'but Kachel inter- 
cepted me and ordered me to take Cas- 
sandra down to supper. She was ill, and 
I had to get her a cab and then explain 
to Eachel that she was gone. Then 
Walworth got hold of me and I could 
not escape. But we will go now at once. 
Mary will say good-night to Eachel for 
us — will you not ? ' he said, turning to 
his sister-in-law. 

' Certainly,' answered Lady Mary in 
chilling tones ; ' Laura ought to go at 
once. I was just thinking of taking her 
home myself.' 

Heme answered drily, 'It was very 
kind of you, but hardly necessary. There 
are at least twenty men here who would 
have fetched me if Laura had asked them 
to do so — I think Laura knew that. Shall 



i 4 2 LADY LAURA. 

we come now, or would you like to say 
good-night to anybody ? ' 

He turned from Lady Mary and ad- 
dressed Laura herself, as if deprecating 
interference between them. 

Laura chose to go at once. She had 
felt guilty during the dialogue between 
her husband and her sister. Lady Mary 
had drawn her attention to the little 
scene in the doorway when Heme was 
hindered by Kachel from coming to fetch 
her away. She had said, ' Do you see ? • 
in a manner that had made Laura start ; 
and the half-hour since had been full 
of miserable suspicions that had made 
it the longest of her life. 

Now she was repentant towards her 
husband, and she wished her sister a 
frigid good-night. 





CHAPTER V. 

1 We pass sentence upon our fellows, of failure or of suc- 
cess, as if we knew what their aspiration had been.' 

HBEE days before the read- 
ing in Arlington Street — that 
is to say on the 25th of July 
— there was to be a grand rehearsal 
at the Hemes'. For this Laura had 
stipulated when the idea of readings 
was first started ; and at the same time 
she had made Cassandra promise to 
come and stay with her during the im- 
portant week. The 25th was a Tuesday — 
Cassandra's classes broke up on the 
preceding Saturday, and she arrived in 
Chester Place on Monday. 



144 LADY LAURA. 

Laura's welcome was languidly affec- 
tionate. She said many times that she 
was glad to see Cassandra, but having 
said this, she seemed to have little more 
to say. They fell into an awkward 
silence, and, to break it, she took Cas- 
sandra to the spare-room, told her she 
was its first inhabitant, and showed her 
all the arrangements she had made for 
her comfort. Cassandra praised every- 
thing and was a little more grateful 
than the occasion required. Then 
Laura bethought her that Cassandra 
must be tired, and suggested that 
she should lie down and rest till it 
was time to dress for dinner ; which 
Cassandra was glad enough to do, not 
so much because she was tired as 
because of the embarrassment Laura's 
presence occasioned her. 

They had been together a very few 
days before and had chatted easily 



LADY LAURA. 145 

enough, and Cassandra was not conscious 
of anything she had done since that 
could have caused a sudden change of 
feeling in Laura. She had not once seen 
Maurice alone since the day of their 
meeting in Kensington. Gardens ; they 
never corresponded; and it happened 
that, during the last few days, they had 
not even met in society. She tried to 
persuade herself that there was no 
change, but the more she dwelt on 
the manner of her reception, the more 
she felt that she was not so welcome 
as Laura professed to make her. Then 
she tried to persuade herself that there 
was, at any rate, no justification for a 
change. She repeated to herself the 
assurances she had fought against when 
Maurice had urged them upon her : she 
had come to think them sound. All 
had gone so smoothly that she had 
learned to look upon the danger, of 

VOL. III. 10 



i 4 6 LADY LAURA. 

which she had talked, as past, and to 
thank Maurice for the frank speech to 
which they owed their present safe 
relations. She had had no reason to 
repent of her trust in him. In all their 
intercourse since, he had been honour- 
ably true to his promise — sparing her 
every possible occasion of embarrassment. 
She was deeply grateful to him, and 
said to herself many times what a 
blessed gift was this male common-sense 
that she had sometimes looked down on 
with contempt. Left to herself, she 
would probably have taken some mad 
step that would have betrayed her and 
him, and ruined Laura's chance of happi- 
ness. Thanks to him, they were tiding 
safely over the time of greatest difficulty 
for them all. In a few weeks London 
would be emptying. She would go home 
for a short holiday. Heme and Laura 
would stay on in town till the end 



LADY LAURA. 147 

of August, and then go down to Ard- 
gwen. When they met again in 
October, Laura would be a mother, and 
a new chapter of existence would have 
begun for her. Cassandra could be less 
frequent in her visits without being 
missed. The child would furnish Laura 
with interest and occupation. She 
would moreover be in better health 
and less liable to the morbid moods she 
had been a prey to during this summer. 
She repeated all these things to her- 
self as she walked up and down Laura's 
spare bedroom, and tried to find com- 
fort in them. But all force of convic- 
tion had gone from them, and once 
more she felt that truth and right 
were on the side of the unreasoning 
instinct that bade her fly from Laura's 
husband. Not that she wavered from 
her trust — only, as she had said to him, 
she feared herself and the sense of 



148 LADY LAURA. 

guilt that overwhelmed her in Laura's 
presence. She said to herself that for 
a woman to feel guilty is to be guilty. 
Acquittal of her reason and the unani- 
mous absolution of all the world are 
as nothing against the condemnation 
of her inner conscience. Maurice had 
decided as a man, and was doubtless 
right from a man's point of view. For 
her he was mistaken, and she had been 
wrong to let him rule her. But it was 
too late to go back — she must make 
the best of her position and learn to 
bear her own disapprobation. 

It had been arranged that they 
should all dine that evening in Ar- 
lington Street. There was to be a 
family party : the Tremadocs, who had 
come to town a few days before in order 
to be present at her readings ; Lord 
Ehoos, whom the same attraction had 
brought from Paris ; Mr. and Mrs. Cour- 



LADY LAURA. 149 

tenay, with the pretty Eva, whom I hope 
the reader has not quite forgotten, and 
Eginont, to whom she had recently be- 
come engaged ; Mr. Burrell Jones — 
without his wife, who was nursing babies 
at home with whooping cough; Lady 
Mary Yane, and our old friend Mr. 
Fenton. Cassandra and the bride-elect 
shared the honours of the evening. Eva 
Courtenay was taken down to dinner 
by Lord Walworth, and sat silent be- 
tween him and Mr. Tremadoc ; Cas- 
sandra went down with Mr. Burrell 
Jones, whose place was next to their 
hostess, and was the centre of con- 
versation throughout dinner. She was 
brilliant, and said things that were 
quoted afterwards. She found the party 
pleasant, and forgot, for a space, all the 
anxieties that had beset her. After 
dinner Fenton taxed her with being 
cynical. She denied the charge, and 



150 LADY LAURA. 

then expressed penitence if she had 
sinned unknowingly. 

1 It is a mistake in art,' he said. 

'I agree with you, only how is it to 
be avoided ? There are combinations 
in society that induce cynicism as surely 
as certain climates do malaria.' 

1 True, and for that reason art should 
eschew society.' 

' Is that why we see you so seldom ? ' 

* It is. I have the disease so strongly 
that I dare not risk aggravating it.' 

1 Then what a touching compliment 
you pay us by being here to-night ! ' 

'I pay you one.' 

Cassandra made a magnificent curtsey, 
and her lip curled more cynically than 
ever. 

1 You think I am not in earnest,' he said. 

' I know you are, 1 she answered. ' But 
I have not mastered my part of ingenue. 
It is Eva Courtenay you should have 



LADY LAURA. 151 

complimented — not me. Only perhaps 
it is better to leave Egmont to do that. 
Tell me what is the greatest age you 
have ever known simplicity attain.' 

'I believe Lady Sarah is six-and-thirty,' 
he answered. 

Cassandra laughed and said, 'And 
Rachel is a year older.' 

'But that is hardly to the point,' said 
Fenton. ' Now if you had mentioned 
her husband's age . . .' 

1 1 do not know it,' Cassandra said. 

'I do,' said Fenton, ' I heard it from 
Burrell Jones the other day.' 

1 And it is ? * 

1 The age of innocence.' 

i Who is cynical now, Mr. Fenton ? ' 
asked Cassandra, laughing in spite of 
herself. 

1 All the world, and you and I who are 
part of it. But if you will sing some- 
thing, we shall all feel better.' 



152 LADY LAURA. 

< Is that true ? ' 

1 Yes, perfectly true, and you only 
doubt it because it is so. I will make 
atonement for the wicked things I have 
said by giving you a sermon — that is, 
if you will have it.' 

' I am much in want of sermons.' 
' Then believe me when I tell you that 
to be great in any way is of necessity to 
say good-bye to the feeling of innocence, 
and that to be great is a duty wherever 
it is possible. If you did not see the 
world as it is, you would not know what 
it ought to be. Innocence cannot paint 
innocence, cannot even conceive it. 
Look at Miss Courtenay, for instance ; 
she is the most guileless of all present, 
and yet she blushes guiltily every time 
Egmont speaks to her. Any one of us 
could act the ingenue better than she can/ 
' And what is the drift of all this ? ' 
' Ah, I had forgotten that I was 



LADY LAURA. 153 

preaching. I must point my moral. I 
think it is that women who have great 
gifts must not take fright at the con- 
sequences their gifts bring with them. 
They must not cry for the simplicity 
of bread and milk — they must rise to a 
higher simplicity of strong meat.' 

' A simplicity above cynicism, not below 
it,' said Cassandra. 

' Exactly, and the sum of it is that 
you must not grow cynical, or you will 
fail and disappoint us all. Now will 
you give me a song in return for my 
sermon ? ' 

'I promised to sing a duet with Mr. 
Burrell Jones.' 

1 Pardon me, but I do not like the 
combination.' 

' It must be, nevertheless,' said Cas- 
sandra, ' and here he comes to remind me.' 

The duet was much applauded. Mr. 
Burrell Jones had a fine baritone, and 



154 LADY LAURA. 

people said it went particularly well with 
Cassandra's soprano, the only dissentient 
voices being Mr. Fenton's and Lady 
Mary's. The former repeated that he 
did not like the combination, and Lady 
Mary said she agreed with him. They 
were pressed to sing again, but Cassandra 
knew Laura wished to go early, and 
she would not risk detaining her. 

She thought over Fenton's remarks 
on her way home, and wondered how far 
he divined her position and how far he 
had been merely shooting at random. 
Either way it was clear that he too 
thought it was a mistake to fly. But 
then he was only another man. He 
had suggested another line of argument — 
one drawn from comparison. Maurice had 
asked her how many people in London 
lived a life without danger. She asked 
herself now how many husbands among 
her acquaintance loved their wives best, 



LADY LAURA. 155 

how many wives their husbands? At 
the worst, was she not less guilty than 
many others who held their heads high 
and whose names were untouched by 
scandal ? Only again, what did that 
matter, if her own instinct condemned 
her? 

She argued the question over and over 
all through the next day, but without 
arriving at any conclusion in which her 
mind could rest. And she was still 
arguing it when the evening came and 
she found herself at last in presence of 
her audience. 

Heme led her to her place, and stayed 
by her for a moment, arranging her desk 
and making sure that all was right. 
She thanked him, but said she should 
not use the desk — she knew the play 
from beginning to end, it was easier to 
her to recite than to read. Then he left 
her and took a place near the doorway 



156 LADY LAURA. 

where he could see her without being 
fully in her sight. 

She came forward and stood face to 
face with the audience. 

There had been much discussion about 
what dress she should wear. Lady Wal- 
worth had had wonderful ideas : she had 
wanted her to appear as the tragic muse, 
she had designed a symbolic costume 
that was to express the ideas of the 
poem; a thousand times she had im- 
plored Cassandra to allow her to provide 
the dress and trust all its arrangements 
to her taste. But Cassandra had been 
deaf to all suggestions, and had reserved 
the right of putting on what she pleased 
at the last moment. 

And what she did please at the last 
moment, was to appear in a black gown 
of lustreless texture and the simplest 
possible form. Her hair was without 
ornaments, and the sombre effect of the 



LADY LAURA. 157 

dress was relieved only by her own vivid 
colouring and the glimmer of a jewel 
she wore on her neck. 

The dress was one that she had worn 
many times before, and her choice of it 
this evening was dictated solely by a 
disinclination to trouble herself about 
the matter. To appear at all before an 
audience of Laura's friends had become 
so distasteful to her that she could not 
trick herself out for the occasion. 

But the most careful study could not 
have produced a more perfect result. 
She looked magnificent, and candid 
Lady Walworth said to her neigh- 
bour, ' She was right ; the plain black 
gown is splendid. It is consummately 
chosen.' 

That she was splendid was the 
unanimous feeling of the room, and 
a movement of applause, greeting her 
advance, sent a thrill of delicious ex- 



158 LADY LAURA. 

citement through all her nerves. She 
bowed in acknowledgment ; the applause 
spread, and its effect upon herself was 
heightened. 

All her senses seemed quickened as by 
an electric bath. She drew herself up 
and surveyed the audience, and for a 
moment she felt that she had been 
transported into a palace of truth. 

I know not whether it was that her 
studies under Mr. Williamson had made 
her abnormally quick in reading the 
expression of faces and spelling language 
on the lips, or whether what she saw 
and heard was but the effect of an 
over-strained imagination, but in that 
instant it seemed to her that she had 
the clue to all the secrets of the people 
who were ranged before her. She could 
see their most hidden feelings, hear 
their inaudible speech. She saw Lady 
Mary touch Ehoos on the arm and say, 



LADY LAURA. 159 

' Look at Laura and tell me if it can 
be justified.' She heard him answer, 
' There are guiltier women than she who 
will judge her by-and-by.' And she 
followed his eye along the benches. 
She saw a bride of ten weeks' standing 
casting down her eyes with guilty con- 
sciousness while her neighbour said soft 
words in her ear. She saw .... 

But what right have I to tell the 
things Cassandra saw or thought she saw 
in that strange moment ? Enough, that, 
as she looked, her lip curled with scorn 
and the words she had spoken to 
Fenton came back upon her mind, — 
There are combinations in society that 
make cynicism inevitable. 

Then she looked at Laura and read 
her condemnation in her white face and 
anxious eyes, and the guilt of others 
seemed as nothing — her own was all she 
knew. For a moment she thought she 



160 LADY LAURA. 

would not read, but Egmont, who was 
standing near, said low, — 

'You had better begin at once — they 
are all quiet.' 

She made a great effort, and began. 
At first her voice was low, and more 
than once it faltered with emotion that 
had its source outside the play. But 
gradually she mastered her feelings and 
compelled them to obey the rhythm 
of the verse. Her passion helped the 
passion of the poem. Her audience was 
at her feet ; and when she came to the 
great scene where Faust demands of the 
fiend, who will not understand him, that 
he may drink to the dregs the mixed 
cup of human experience — tasting hatred 
as well as love, agony no less than 
rapture, vileness side by side with glory, 
and death at last when life has been 
exhausted, — when she put the despairing 
question, What then is man if he may 



LADY LAURA. 161 

not reach the crown of manhood towards 
which all his being strives ? — and paused 
a moment before uttering the mocking 
answer, a burst of applause told her that 
success was sure. 

From that moment she forgot every- 
thing but the play. She was Faust, 
she was Mephistopheles, she was 
Gretchen. Herself she had ceased 
to be. 

She was unconscious of the unswerv- 
ing gaze of passionate admiration with 
which Heme's eyes were fixed on her. 
She did not see the haggard misery 
in Laura's eyes as they looked help- 
lessly from her face to his, and read 
the truth at last. She saw nothing, and 
she felt the applause that followed the 
close of every scene only as an inspira- 
tion for the next. 

But it had been arranged that there 
should be a break half-way through 

VOL. III. 11 



162 LADY LAURA. 

the reading, and during the pause con- 
sciousness of her surroundings came back 
to her. 

All the audience had risen. The 
room was rilled with a buzz of voices. 
Women were drying their eyes and 
saying they had never known what 
Faust was before. Men were pressing 
round Laura and begging to be intro- 
duced to her cousin. Laura was forcing 
her lips to smile, but the expression of 
her eyes gave them ghastly contradiction. 
Suddenly she turned deadly pale and 
made a tottering movement in the 
direction of the door. Cassandra darted 
towards her and put her arm out to sup- 
port her. But Laura looked at her 
stonily and pushed her away. Lady 
Mary stepped between them, and at the 
same moment Ehoos came up and made 
Laura lean on him. 

This is your doing,' he said; and he 



LADY LAURA. 163 

glared at Lady Mary with an oath be- 
tween his teeth. 

' No, it is mine,' said Cassandra ; and 
she turned away from the group, and 
passed out on to the balcony, and stood 
alone in the moonlight. 

Had all the room seen the mute ges- 
ture of repulsion with which Laura had 
rejected her proffered help ? Had they 
understood its meaning? Would they 
turn away from her if she w T ent back 
among them now ? — But she would not 
go back. She would stay outside alone 
till they were all gone. Then she would 
creep upstairs to bed, and to-morrow, 
before breakfast, she would go away. 

Cassandra had lived over thirty years 
in the world ; she had a woman's experi- 
ence of its difficulties, more than most 
women's knowiedge of its facts, and she 
was generally credited with possessing 
her full share of presence of mind in 



164 LADY LAURA. 

social emergencies. Bat there were 
moments when she was helpless as a 
child, and had no thought but to lie still 
while things took their course and carried 
her with them to destruction or salva- 
tion. It was such a moment with her 
now. Her good name hung on her im- 
mediate action, and she was passively 
resolved that she would not act. 

In a few minutes Heme joined her. 

' Oh, there you are,' he said, forcing 
himself to speak without embarrassment, 
and succeeding so well that she thought 
his composure genuine. 'Everybody is 
asking for you. Why have you hidden 
yourself? Let me take you back into 
the drawing-room.' 

He tried to take her hand and lead 
her back, but she drew it away and stood 
firm. 

£ How is Laura ? ' was all she said. 

' Laura will be down in a few minutes. 






LADY LAURA. 165 

The heat of the room made her faint. I 
have taken her upstairs. Sarah is nurs- 
ing her, and she will be all right very 
soon. When I have taken you back, I 
will go up to her again.' 

' Go now,' said Cassandra; 'I do not 
want to go back to the drawing-room. 
It is cooler here, and I feel a little less 
wicked.' 

' Cassandra,' he said, * I implore you to 
come back. People are beginning to talk.' 

'Let them talk,' she answered; 'their 
talk can alter nothing. I thought we 
were doing right, injuring nobody. 
That was what you assured me. How 
have things changed that now we must 
fear the talk of people like ? ' 

1 Hush,' he said; ' you are unreasonable. 
We cannot argue now. You promised 
to trust me, This is the moment to 
show that you meant it. Come back 
now and finish your reading, and all 



166 LADY LAURA. 

that has happened will be forgotten. 
You have had a splendid triumph.' 

' A triumph ! ' she said with an accent 
of scorn. ' Is this your idea of a 
triumph ? I think I could write another 
canto to the Inferno and show how 
usurpers are crushed under the wheels 
of their own chariots — of triumph. 
Maurice, whatever happens, I cannot 
go back to that room.' 

' What excuse am I to make for 
you?' 

' What you can.' 

1 There is nothing that I can say. 
You must come back.' 

1 Why must I come ? To prevent the 
world's talking? Oh, Maurice, I think 
men are greater cowards than women. 
I am ready to bear my punishment, but 
you cannot meet yours.' 

' It is not a question of bearing punish- 
ment. It is a question of preventing 



LADY LAURA. 167 

further wrong. For Laura's sake you 
ought to come back.' 

1 You own then that we have wronged 
her. You saw her face, you saw how she 
pushed me away, — can I go back after 
that? She hates me, and I loved her 
— oh, Maurice, I did love her — she 
must never doubt that . . .' 

C I know you did,' he said. ' It is 
I who have wronged her, not you, 
Cassandra. I have wronged you both. 
You cannot say it more strongly than I 
say it to myself. But this is not the 
time for confession. To-morrow will 
come. To-night, for your sake and for 
hers, I must entreat you to come back.' 

( I will come back when Laura asks 
me.' 

* Maurice dear . . . .' Laura was 
standing on the window-sill. She had 
come down, and the room being hot, some 
one had placed a chair for her near the 



168 LADY LAURA. 

window. From where it stood, she could 
see Maurice but not Cassandra. She 
rose to go to him : she wanted to tell 
him she was better and to reassure her- 
self of his love by a few words alone with 
him. But a step forward brought her in 
view of them both. Cassandra was lean- 
ing against the wall that divided the 
balcony from that of the neighbouring 
house — the moonlight fell on her face 
and lit up its beauty — Maurice stood 
in front of her pleading desperately. It 
was as if a vision had been sent to end 
the weary argument Laura had been hold- 
ing within herself. That other scene in 
the library at Ardgwen came back to 
her; she understood its meaning now; 
she remembered Mary's hints; she no 
longer doubted her own vague instinct 
of distrust. A long drama of treachery 
was laid bare at last. Her husband and 
her nearest friend had conspired to make 



LADY LAURA. 169 

her miserable. She turned sick at heart, 
and broke off in her appeal. 

Cassandra started forward as if she 
would have thrown herself at Laura's 
feet. But Heme laid a strong hand 
upon her arm, and pressed her back 
against the w T all. 

1 This is no time for a scene,' he said. 
' We must go back to our guests. Laura 
must wait till they are gone for an 
explanation. ' 

'I will go to bed,' said Laura; 'I am 
ill, but I will not disturb everybody. 
Sarah will go upstairs with me.' 

Sarah took her upstairs, and Cassandra 
came back into the drawing-room followed 
by Maurice. People had taken their 
places again and were waiting for the 
reading to go on. 

'I am not going to read,' Cassandra 
said to Maurice. 

1 No,' he said ; c it is impossible now. 



170 LADY LAURA. 

He beckoned to Khoos, and asked him 
to explain that Lanra had been taken ill 
and that the reading could not go on. 
Then he went upstairs. 

Ehoos made the announcement, and 
everybody began to say good-night. A 
few guests went at once ; others were 
obliged to wait for their carriages. 

At last they were almost all gone, and 
Maurice came down and reported that 
Laura was asleep. A doctor had been 
sent for and had declared that there was 
nothing serious — she would be herself 
again in the morning. He stood talk- 
ing to the few guests who still lingered. 

Cassandra and Khoos found themselves 
Ute-a-Ute in the back room. 

'How much longer are you going to 
stay here ? ' he asked. 

' Not after to-morrow morning/ 

'Forgive me, if I say that I am glad 
to hear it.' 



LADY LAURA. 171 

'You need not ask my forgiveness,' 
she said. l It is I who ought to kneel to 
every one. I wish I might — I think I 
should feel better for it.' 

She tapped her foot impatiently on the 
floor. All the emotions of the evening 
were turning to a miserable irritation for 
which no vent was possible. 

Ehoos asked her what she meant to 
do when she went from there. 

1 1 do not know and I do not care. I 
am going for ever. None of you will 
hear of me any more. That is all that 
matters.' 

Ehoos almost smiled. There was a 
wildness about the idea that touched 
absurdity. 

He said, ' Do you mean that you are 
going to live quite by yourself — away 
from all your friends ? ' 

1 It is the only way I can live. Among 
my friends, I make misery. The desert 



172 LADY LAURA. 

is the right place for me, and I am going 
into it at last.' 

' I know there is no use in my giving 
you advice,' he began ; but she inter- 
rupted him. 

* Don't say that,' she said ; 1 1 want 
advice. I am bewildered and utterly 
astray. What ought I to do?' 

She looked up at him beseechingly, 
with clasped hands and eyes full of 
despair. 

i Come into the balcony,' he said 
quietly, ' and if I can I will help you.' 

She rose to follow him through the 
window. Then suddenly drawing back, 
she said with a bitter laugh, — 

' Oh heavens ! what must you think 
of me ? ' 

1 I think you are in great trouble and 
that it is very kind of you to let me help 
you. You need not fear my misunder- 
standing you, Cassandra. I see quite 



LADY LAURA. 173 

well how you are placed, and that the 
judgment of a dispassionate person like 
myself is just what you want.' 

' Thank you,' she said very humbly ; 
' you have always been much kinder to 
me than I deserved.' 

' You have nothing to thank me for. 
Will you not sit down? we could talk 
more quietly so.' 

He pointed to a chair and seated him- 
self in one beside it. She sat down and 
began to speak hurriedly. 

'You see what has happened,' she 
said. ' We have p]ayed a mad game, 
and it has ended disastrously. But we 
meant no wrong. We persuaded our- 
selves that our friendship robbed her of 
nothing. It was mad, and it has ended 
as it must end. But we meant no wrong, 
— do you understand ? ' 

' I understand perfectly. The children 
of light have once more proved them- 



i 7 4 LADY LAURA. 

selves less wise in their generation than 
the children of this world.' 

' Yes, that is it,' said Cassandra. l And 
now I want you to advise me. Of course 
I must go to-morrow, and I must go 
without seeing Laura. Shall I write and 
tell her how it all happened ? ' 

I Certainly not.' 

I I knew you would say so. What 
shall I do then ? ' 

1 Invent an excuse for going suddenly, 
and write that.' 

' I cannot. 1 

' Then go without writing at all.' 

* And leave her to think the worst ? ' 

' Leave her to think what she likes.' 

Cassandra gave a groan. 

' Oh, it is hard,' she said. ' I know I 
am to blame. But yet, as I look back, I 
cannot but see that I was terribly tempted 
and that there were excuses. I should 
forgive in her place, if all the truth were 



LADY LAURA. 175 

told me. It is terribly hard to leave her 
without one word that would make her 
understand. And yet I believe that you 
are right.' 

' I know I am. Your mistake was to 
come here at all. The only reparation 
you can make is to go away and leave 
Laura and her husband to one another. 
They must settle it between them.' 

' She will think the very worst of me. 
Do you not know that she will ? ' 

' I know nothing in the matter.' 

' But you can think — what do you 
think ? ' 

1 1 think as you do, that it is possible 
Laura may blame you more than you 
deserve, but ' 

He was going to say something to the 
effect that that would be easy, seeing 
that in his opinion Cassandra had been 
throughout more sinned against than 
sinning. But he forbore, knowing that 



176 LADY LAURA. 

to suggest excuses for her, would only 
make her break out in exaggerated self- 
condemnation that would be profitless. 

Cassandra put her own interpretation 
on the blank he left. 

1 But I must bear it as my punishment 
you mean ? ' 

1 No, indeed. I did not mean to speak 
as your judge, but merely to repeat that 
whatever explanation is made to Laura 
must come from her husband, not from 
you. And, after all, Maurice is not likely 
to make a scapegoat of you.' 

Cassandra did not answer for a few 
moments. It needed a painful effort of 
her will to submit to this duty of silence. 
But she recognised that it was the right 
course and she was resolved to adopt 
it. In asking counsel of Ehoos, she had 
honestly meant to be guided by what 
he should say — she would not reject his 
advice because it involved pain. 



LADY LAURA. 177 

' 1 promise you,' she said, ' that I will 
go early without seeking an explanation. 
And now good-night, my friend.' 

She laid a peculiar emphasis on the 
word friend which Khoos contrived to 
reproduce in his answer. He said, — 

1 Before we say good-night you must 
tell me what part of the desert you are 
going to, — you cannot mind leaving your 
address with your " friends." ' 

' I shall go hack to my lodgings,' she 
said, and she told him her number in 
Wimpole Street. 

i Will you promise me to take no 
decisive step till you have heard from 
me? You should not act rashly. Ee- 
member that your friends have claims 
upon you which you are not justified in 
disregarding. Your mother .' 

6 1 will do nothing without first telling 
you, — I mean, nothing immediately. I 
cannot bind myself for always.' 

vol. in. 12 



178 LADY LAURA. 

' That is of course. But just now you 
are upset and unfit for judgment.' 

She bent her head in assent, and 
then parted from him with a silent 
pressure of the hand. She saw Maurice 
waiting alone at the other end of the 
drawing-room as if to give her the oppor- 
tunity of speech if she desired it, but she 
avoided him and went straight upstairs 
to her room. 

In a few minutes she heard the house 
door close and she knew that Ehoos 
was gone. Then Maurice's footstep 
sounded up the stairs, and she felt every 
fall of it ]ike a throb of her own pulses. 
She knew when he stopped outside 
Laura's room, she held her breath during 
the pause between the click that opened 
the door and the duller thud that told 
of its closing again, then she buried 
her face in her hands and thought, 
1 Now they are together once more, and 






LADY LAURA. 179 

I am shut out for ever from their 
lives.' 

So near and yet so far. Only a few 
beams and a little plaster, — only heaven, 
earth, and hell, between her and the two 
beings who were dearest to her in the 
world. 

She rose from the chair into which she 
had sunk on first coming into the room, 
and busied herself with undressing and 
packing, moving stealthily for fear she 
should be heard in the room below. 
Since she had promised to forego the 
luxury of an explanation, she could not 
bear that they should know of her de- 
parture till it was an accomplished fact. 
It would have been intolerable to her to 
see either of them again and hold silence ; 
intolerable to be asked about her plans or 
offered help in the details of her departure. 
There is a sting in the touch of hands we 
have once held in fulness of soul's sym- 



180 LADY LAURA. 

pathy, when such sympathy has hecome 
impossible, and they offer themselves in 
services of practical help. 

So she moved noiselessly about the 
room, not caring how long her task 
occupied her, wishing rather that it 
might drag on till the morning. But at 
last it was accomplished, and by the 
time the morning dawned she had no 
excuse for watching any longer. But 
she would not go to bed, not believing it 
possible that she could sleep. She sat 
down in the window seat and rested her 
head upon the sill so that she could 
watch the morning grow. 

But Nature, though she is a hard 
mother to us at times, is not without 
her mercies, and among them there is 
perhaps none greater than the physical 
exhaustion that follows on mental strain, 
and brings us rest when we need it most 
and are yet ashamed to seek it. And 



LADY LAURA. 181 

in spite of her sorrow and her pride, 
sleep came to Cassandra before she had 
watched many minutes — sleep, sweet and 
dreamless as that of an infant in its 
mother's lap. 




CHAPTEE VI. 

1 The fruit of dreamy hoping 
Is, waking, blank despair.' 

S soon as the arrival of the first 
post made the excuse of a 
sudden summons plausible, Cas- 
sandra asked for breakfast in her room, 
and told the housemaid that she was 
obliged to go away at once. She left a 
message for Laura to the effect that the 
Annesleys were in trouble and had begged 
her to lose no time in going to them, 
and then saying that she would write in 
the course of the day, she hurried from 
the door. To go really to the Annesleys 
was, in truth, the last thing she felt in- 
clined to do. Theirs was a busy prac- 



LADY LAURA. 183 

tical house in which all questions had 
been settled long ago on grounds of pure 
reason, and all that remained was to act 
upon thern. Her relations with them 
were based on the least fundamental part 
of her nature, and were in fact those of 
comradeship rather than of friendship ; 
all that they had in common belonged to 
the region of opinion and action, and left 
the depths of emotion unsounded. 

And just now emotion was paramount 
with Cassandra. The balance of things 
was upset with her, and that end of the 
beam that carries the practical counter- 
weights of passion had jerked its burden 
to the winds and pointed emptily aloft, 
while emotion bore down the other end 
to depths that reason cannot measure. 

She had promised Ehoos not to act 
on her own wild impulses, and she was 
content to sit still until he told her what 
to do, but she could not go among people 



1 84 LADY LAURA. 

whose philosophy ignored the difficulties 
in which she was involved. The con- 
versation in Brunswick Square would 
have been about as grateful to her present 
mood as one can fancy a dry reading of 
the Decalogue might be to a conscience 
broken with the guilt of every act therein 
proscribed. Besides it would have been 
impossible to explain to them the reasons 
of her sudden breach with the Hemes, 
and she would have felt dishonest in 
accepting their hospitality without a 
candid statement of her position. 

She could not go to the Annesleys, 
but a summons from them was the only 
excuse she could invent for her sudden 
departure, and she must trust to Ehoos 
to help her out of any awkwardness the 
fiction might involve. 

Meanwhile she went back to Wimpole 
Street and waited idly in her room with 
her own sad thoughts for company. 



LADY LAURA. 185 

About an hour after her arrival a 
letter from Ehoos was brought to her. 
It was a welcome interruption to her 
solitude. She broke the seal however 
with some tremor. There were con- 
siderations that made her sometimes 
doubt the prudence of allowing him to 
become her sole adviser. But as she 
read, she felt reassured. It was a letter 
of purest friendship. 

' My dear Cassandra, — There is an 

aspect of your position which I consider 

11 
very important and which I only forbore 

to draw your attention to last night 
because I knew that to do so would be 
useless. But I have more hope of gain- 
ing a hearing this morning — much more 
hope of persuading you by letter than in 
the course of a verbal argument. This 
is my apology for attacking you again so 
soon. 



1 86 LADY LAURA. 

'What I want to convince you of, is 
that you are taking a very exaggerated 
view of your mistake — for after all you 
have only made a mistake. To talk of 
yourself as a guilty woman who ought to 
ask forgiveness of all the world and then 
disappear into the desert, sounds like 
nonsense to anybody who knows you and 
knows the world. If you deserve excom- 
munication, the whole of fashionable 
London, and I daresay unfashionable 
London too, ought to have been laid 
under an interdict long ago. Your turn 
for going into the desert will not fairly 
come till the desert is fuller than the 
world of which you think yourself un- 
worthy. I speak, mind you, of your 
position and conduct as compared to the 
conduct and position of other women in 
society. In comparison with many 
whom I am in no haste to condemn, I 
do not hesitate to say that you are 



LADY LAURA. 187 

blameless. But I pray you to understand 
that in saying this I do not for a moment 
presume to come between you and your 
conscience. While it condemns you, I 
do not venture to acquit you. A mistake 
that has brought distress on others is, I 
well know, a thing to be repented per- 
haps even more bitterly than many false 
steps that the world calls by its hardest 
names. But such repentance is a matter 
between you and your own soul. It 
must not clothe itself in outward acts of 
humiliation, or it will infallibly be mis- 
understood. 

1 If you now commit yourself to any 
signal step of retreat, the world will call 
you guilty in its own sense, and it will 
be your fault that it does so. You will 
have given occasion to a scandal from 
which you will never again be clear. 
And this you have no right to do. Your 
disgrace would touch your family. If 



1 88 LADY LAURA. 

you were really guilty it would be neces- 
sary for them to accept a share of your 
shame. But you are not guilty, and to 
thrust an unreal shame upon yourself and 
them would be not only foolish but wrong. 
' 1 cannot pretend to think that the 
scene last night escaped observation. It 
has set people talking, but the talkers 
know that they have themselves been 
talked of in their time, and they will not 
be very severe on you unless you con- 
demn yourself by seeming guilty. My 
sisters of course see the whole situation, 
and I wish there were any one of them 
to whom I could advise you to speak 
freely. But in truth I think you will do 
better to avoid the subject with all of 
them. From Mary you would not ex- 
pect much comfort — I need not warn 
you against making her your confessor. 
Sarah's extreme simplicity would make 
her about as helpful as a child of two 



LADY LAURA. 189 

years old. Eachel would probably scare 
you by taking a lighter view of the matter 
than even I have dared to suggest. 
Confess to none of them, but accept 
frankly the support of the two who are 
willing to stand by you. You will do 
this with a clearer conscience for know- 
ing that you are not accepting it on false 
pretences. And so I say again, they 
know how you stand, and are not disposed 
to cast you off. For you to take the 
initiative and cast them off, would be 
simply suicide. 

' I am going now to Chester Place, and 
shall send you news of Laura as soon as 
I have seen her. In the meanwhile, will 
you go and see Eachel, who expects you 
to call about some arrangements for 
Friday evening? I have just seen her 
and know this from herself. 

' Forgive me for inflicting upon you this 
long lesson in worldly wisdom, and believe 



190 LADY LAURA. 

me to be always and under all circum- 
stances, 

1 Affectionately yours, 

1 Bhoos.' 

She read the letter through several 
times, and at every reading felt more 
convinced that its counsels were wise. 
The moment for retreat was past. She 
had drifted into danger when she might 
have held aloof, and now that she 
would fain have returned to safety, right 
and wrong had changed places, and the 
temptation of yesterday was the binding 
duty of to-day. She owed it to others to 
persevere in the course upon which she 
had entered. She must give the reading 
on Friday, she must play her part in 
society as before. She could do it, and 
she would. 

She wrote a short note of thanks to 
Ehoos, and then lost no time in going 



LADY LAURA. 191 

to Arlington Street to keep her engage- 
ment with Lady Walworth. 

And meanwhile how had the night 
gone with Laura ? 

While Khoos and Cassandra discussed 
in the balcony, and Heme waited in the 
drawing-room, she lay sleepless and 
miserable on her bed, straining her ear 
to catch the voices from below — now 
wishing them to stop and let her husband 
come and make the explanation he had 
spoken of, now wishing that they might 
never cease and so postpone for ever the 
moment in which she was to hear the 
extent to which she had been wronged. 

What ought she to say to him when 
he came ? Must she reproach him 
and repel him with stern looks ? It 
seemed to her that she ought to do so. 
He had deceived her at all points ; he 
had forfeited for ever all claim upon her 
love. She had learned to love him by 



192 LADY LAURA. 

believing him to be great and good and 
worthy to be loved. He had been her 
hero and her god, and she had gloried 
in giving herself to him without reserve ; 
and he had shown himself unworthy — 
not only faithless to herself but untrue 
to all the purposes of his life. It seemed 
to her that the very purity of the 
love she had given him commanded 
her to take it back now that he had 
stripped himself of all the qualities that 
had won it from her. And she realised 
with a sort of horror that she could not. 

Was it right or was it wrong? She 
could not say : her judgment was chained 
in helpless bondage to her love. If he 
would but come back to her she would 
love him wholly as before, only no longer 
blindly for virtues not his own, but 
madly for himself because she could not 
do otherwise. 

And all the while he had not cared for 



LADY LAURA. 193 

her, but for Cassandra. But why then 
had he married her? Was he a fiend, 
that he should find pleasure in ruining 
the happiness of one who had never done 
him any wrong ? 

And then her mind went back to the 
days before her marriage when she was 
unthinkingly happy with her own people, 
when she loved God and believed the 
world was good. He had spoiled all her 
life, and yet she could not hate him. 
She knew that if he came to her she 
should find no words of reproach, but 
yearn to throw her arms about his neck 
and sob forgiveness on his breast. But 
this she must not do, because he did not 
want her love — and besides, he would 
not come. He and Cassandra would go 
away together and leave her alone. She 
had heard of such things being done, and 
in the sudden wreck of all her habits of 
thought and feeling, the worst possibili- 

VOL. III. 13 



i 9 4 LADY LAURA. 

ties seemed the only probable events. 
Maurice and Cassandra would go away- 
together. She found herself looking to 
this as the certain sequel of to-night's 
discovery. But then would they go 
secretly, or would he come and tell her 
they were going ? Perhaps that was 
what he meant by an explanation. He 
would come to her bedside and say that he 
had found it impossible to go on loving 
her, and then he would kiss her and say 
good-bye, and it would all be over. Every 
moment she became more certain that it 
would happen so. But what would be her 
part in the scene ? Surely she would not 
oppose him ; there would be no happiness 
in holding him against his will. Only 
how would it be possible to kiss him, 
knowing that it was for the last time — 
how should she ever let loose the hands 
that had grown so dear ? 

All at once the door opened, and she 






LADY LAURA. 195 

knew that he was standing within the 
room. On a sudden impulse, she feigned 
sleep. He came near to the bed, and she 
felt him bending over her. She longed to 
look up, to speak, to embrace him. But 
there was a spell of terror on her that 
only his voice could loosen, and he did 
not speak. He stood doubting whether 
to waken her and ask her forgiveness 
then and there, or to leave her sleeping 
till the morning. The doctor had said 
she must sleep, and her white face rest- 
ing on the pillow looked at peace. 

He scrupled to disturb her. He 
was unwilling to delay their reconcilia- 
tion. 

While he still hesitated, she turned 
over on her side and flung her arm 
across her face as a screen against the 
oppression of his silent presence. 

1 She turns away from me,' he thought, 
and he went out of the room and closed 



196 LADY LAURA. 

the door noiselessly behind him for fear 
of waking her. 

Yes, he was gone, and she was alone 
for ever. For a few minutes she lay quite 
still trying to realise her future. She 
saw herself getting up next day and 
going about explaining to the servants in 
the house, to her friends, to her mother 
and sisters and brothers, that her husband 
had ceased to care for her and had gone 
away and left her. She saw the lonely 
years following one another in mono- 
tonous succession, — comfortless, joyless, 
blank. But saddest of all in the sad 
outlook, was the sense that that which 
had been hitherto her sweetest hope had 
now become her bitterest terror. Through 
the disappointments of her year of 
married life, there had been one thought 
in which she had never failed to find 
consolation, — she would be a mother 
soon, and then her life would be worth 



LADY LAURA. 197 

living. She would have a little one 
dependent on her, a young life to nurse 
and cherish and to mould according to 
her will. Her child would be all she had 
dreamed her husband was, do all she 
could not do herself. Oh, the baby would 
be the beginning of a new chapter in life, 
— the baby would make her busy, useful, 
happy ! 

But now the prospect of being a mother 
had become full of shame. What should 
she tell the little one of its father? 
How should she bear that it should know 
that he had left her for another ? Her 
child could not honour her when its 
own father had put dishonour upon her. 
Besides it would not be her child only : 
it would be his, it would be like him. 
It would make her love it, and then in 
a little while it would go away from her, 
and she would be twice desolate. 

She remembered the Sisters of Charity 



198 LADY LAURA. 

who lived in the back street and worked 
among the poor. She thought she would 
go to them. She was free now, and could 
give all her life to work like theirs. 

But then she bethought her that her 
unbelief would be a bar against her. 
They would not admit one who did not 
worship God. Maurice had shut that 
door against her also. And again she 
asked herself for what purpose he had 
so ruined all her life. Oh, why had he 
made her love him so ! 

At last tears came to her relief, and 
she sobbed upon the bed like a child. 
How long she did not know, but when 
the sobs subsided she was too exhausted 
to think any more, and she too fell asleep. 
The sun was high in the sky when 
she awoke, and sounds of life both within 
and without the house told her that it 
was late. She sat up in bed and tried to 
recall the incidents and feelings of the 



LADY LAURA. 199 

night. She was not much more capable 
of reasoning about them than she had 
been while they were actually passing, 
for her head ached cruelly, and she had 
that sense of being mentally bruised and 
strained that always follows upon a great 
and new trouble. 

But there is a wisdom belonging to 
the morning that is as independent of 
reasoning as is the delirium of the night. 
And inevitably, her daylight thoughts 
took a more probable direction than 
those she had had in the darkness. She 
ran over in her mind the things that 
were to be done during the coming 
day, and in doing so the mere force 
of habit compelled her to count 
upon her husband's presence in the 
house. 

She looked at her watch and found 
that it was half-past ten. ( I wonder 
whether Maurice has gone out yet,' she 



200 LADY LAURA. 

thought ; and she got up and knocked at 
the door of his dressing-room. 

There was no answer, so she went in. 

The room was empty, but everything 
about it looked as usual. The clothes he 
had worn on the evening before were 
lying on a chair ; letters evidently brought 
by that morning's post were on the dress- 
ing-table ; a little paper of memoranda 
was sticking in the glass, and she noticed 
that one or two additions to it had been 
freshly made. He would not have done 
that if he had meant to go away alto- 
gether. She went back to her room and 
rang the bell: she had courage now to 
face the housemaid and ask questions. 

The maid brought her a note from 
Maurice. He had gone to his office at 
the usual hour and had left this note to 
be delivered to her on waking, not before. 
Laura tore it open eagerly. It was very 
short, and the tone of it was neither more 



LADY LAURA. 201 

nor less affectionate than usual. It 
merely told her that he had looked in at 
her last night and this morning, but that 
finding her asleep both times he had 
thought it best to leave her undisturbed. 
He would be in at five, and he hoped to 
find her better. She must send for him 
immediately if she was not. 

Being thus relieved from her worst 
fears, she asked about Cassandra and 
received the message that had been in- 
vented for her. Then before she was 
dressed, Sarah came to see her and 
stayed with her for the rest of the 
morning, and in the afternoon Eachel 
called to take her for a drive. She went 
with her gladly, only stipulating that she 
must be brought home before five, as 
Maurice had said he should be in early 
and she did not want to be out when 
he came. Eachel promised, but mis- 
calculated the time, and they were 



202 LADY LAURA. 

still in the Park when five o'clock 
struck. 

Cinderella at the hall after midnight 
cannot have heen more distressed than 
Laura was at the discovery. She im- 
plored to he driven home at once, and 
afforded her sister a good deal of amuse- 
ment hy the nervous restlessness that 
possessed her till she was finally set 
down on her own doorstep. Kachel 
had driven away hefore Laura learned 
that her alarm had been unnecessary, — 
her husband had not yet come in. At 
first she was glad, as she had set her 
heart on being at home to receive him ; 
but when an hour went by and still he 
did not come, she began to grow uneasy. 
And when another hour passed without 
his appearing, all ths worst fears of the 
night before came back to her. It was 
true that he was sometimes detained 
by business till late at night, but then he 






LADY LAURA. 203 

always sent her a note or telegram — and 
to-night neither came. The notion of 
his having gone away with Cassandra 
reasserted itself, and Cassandra's mys- 
terious disappearance in the morning 
seemed to give it fresh probability. No 
letter had come from her either, and her 
message was that she would write in the 
course of the day. 

The cook sent up to ask whether she 
would wait dinner : it was more than 
half-an-hour after the usual time, the 
food was spoiling. Laura said she would 
wait a little longer. Another half-hour 
passed, and the housemaid came to per- 
suade her to dine alone. Laura would 
have refused, but it struck her that the 
girl looked at her compassionately as if 
she suspected that something was wrong, 
and she thought she would best disarm 
suspicion by doing the most reasonable 
thing. She went down and dined by 



204 LADY LAURA. 

herself, forcing herself to eat as a means 
of persuading her household that all 
was right. 

Then she went up to the drawing-room 
and sat doing nothing. Ten o'clock 
struck, eleven : he had not come. She 
rang the bell and sent the servants to 
bed. A little later she went up herself 
and undressed. He was clearly not 
coming home at all. She would try to 
go to sleep. She bethought herself of 
some sleeping-draughts that she had been 
using lately. She took one, but it had no 
effect on her. She could not stay in her 
room. She put on a dressing-gown and 
wandered about the house, — in and out of 
the rooms, up and down stairs, like a poor 
ghost that revisits scenes of past happi- 
ness, and finds them desolate. 

She went into the dining-room and 
drew back the curtains and looked out 
into the gas-lit street, hoping to see her 



LADY LAURA. 205 

husband coming. Long time she looked, 
but there was no sign of him. She went 
through the folding doors into the back- 
room which he used as a study. It had 
been shut up all day, and the atmosphere 
of it was close and oppressive. She set 
her candle down on the writing-table and 
opened the window, letting in a strong 
gust of air. It caught some papers and 
sent them fluttering about the floor. 
She knelt down to pick them up, but the 
attitude brought on faintness, the room 
turned dim and the furniture swam around 
her. She scrambled to her feet and felt 
her way back to the other room, where 
there was a sofa on which she could 
throw herself. The faintness passed 
quickly ; but, in the passive state that 
followed it, the composing draught took 
effect, and almost immediately she was 
asleep. 

Asleep and in heaven. She was sitting 



206 LADY LAURA. 

again in the cedar grove at Ardgwen. 
Sunshine was creeping lovingly about 
her, blue sky looking in through the dark 
branches overhead. There was a sound 
of crackling among the dead leaves, and 
she knew that he was coming. The sun- 
shine grew brighter and brighter, and 
she saw him standing before her, She 
tried to stretch out her arms, but they 
were heavy and she could not lift them. 
She tried to speak, but her lips were 
numbed. 

Suddenly the spell was broken. 

' Laura/ said his own voice, but not 
in the low tender tone in which she had 
thought to hear it. It rang round her 
like a shriek of horror, and she started 
from the sofa with an answering cry of 
1 Maurice ! ' 

A great glare of light was about her, 
the room seemed full of people. But she 
saw nothing clearly but her husband 



LADY LAURA. 207 

standing over her with arms stretched 
out as if to save her from some deadly 
peril. 

She sank upon his breast, and darkness 
closed round her in a swoon like death. 





CHAPTER VII. 

Look in my face : my name is Might-Have-Been. ' 

AS SANDRA found it difficult to 
wait patiently for indirect news 
of Chester Place. Moreover 
such news as came was incomplete. 
Rhoos's second note told her that Laura 
was not up when he called, and though 
he transmitted her message that she 
was much hetter, Cassandra felt no con- 
fidence in the information. A third note 
that came in the evening was equally 
unsatisfactory. He had tried to see 
Laura again in the course of the after- 
noon, hut had not found her at home. 
However he had heard from Rachel that 



LADY LAURA. 209 

she had been driving with her and was 
pretty well. He promised to come to 
Wimpole Street next morning. 

But the morning passed without his 
appearing, and no note came to explain 
his failure. Cassandra grew uneasy and 
made up her mind to go to Arlington 
Street for news. She had hardly gone 
a hundred yards before she met Khoos. 

1 1 had given you up/ she said. 

'I was unavoidably hindered,' he 
answered. ' But will you not come back 
with me now ? ' 

Cassandra turned, and they walked 
home together. 

' Something has happened,' she said; 
' let me hear it at once. ' 

But he said, <It will be better to 
wait till we are in the house ; ' and she 
submitted. 

He talked of indifferent things, and 
she answered at random. Then, as soon 
! vol. in. 14 



210 LADY LAURA. 

as they were in her room, she put an 
end to the forced conversation by saying 
peremptorily, — 

'Now tell me. I see it is something 
dreadful. But it cannot be worse to hear 
it than to be in this suspense. How is 
Laura ? ' 

Ehoos thankfully availed himself of 
the invitation to be direct. He said, — 

1 Laura is very ill. I ought to tell you 
at once that she is in serious danger.' 

Cassandra had turned deadly white. 

' Go on,' she said. ' Maurice ....?' 

She could not frame her question, 
but Khoos followed her thought and 
answered it : — 

' He is with her, he will not leave 
her — she does not know him now, but 
when she recovers . . . .' 

' But she will not recover ! ' cried 
Cassandra. ' She will die, and I shall 
have killed her.' 



LADY LAURA. 211 

Khoos made no answer. He knew 
it would be useless to argue that point 
with her. 

1 Go on,' she said. ' What has hap- 
pened? How is she ill? For mercy's 
sake tell me everything at once.' 

He told her the story of the day before, 
— how Maurice had gone out in the morn- 
ing leaving Laura asleep and meaning to 
come home early, — how he had been 
unexpectedly detained at the office, and 
then just as he was hurrying home had 
been recalled by his chief, who wanted 
him imperatively to go down to the 
House of Commons. 

' He wrote to Laura, but there seems 
to have been some mistake on the part 
of the messenger, and she never got the 
letter. Laura, it appears, was wild with 
anxiety all day. The servants say that 
from the time she came in from driving 
with Sarah till bedtime she did nothing 



212 LADY LAURA. 

but wander about the house looking like 
a ghost. But at about eleven she went to 
bed, and then they thought she would be 
all right, and went to bed themselves. 
However she seems to have got up again 
and come downstairs to watch for her 
husband; — though exactly what she did 
nobody can tell, as she is quite delirious, 
and it all happened after the servants 
were gone to bed/ 

'What happened? I do not under- 
stand,' said Cassandra. Suddenly one 
definite idea possessed her. ' She has 
not tried to kill herself ? ' 

'No, no. I fear I am telling the 
story bunglingly,' said Ehoos. ' It was 
not that. But when Maurice came 
home, he was startled to see a policeman 
standing on the doorstep ringing the bell 
violently. He hurried up, and as he 
passed the dining-room window he saw 
that the room was on fire. He opened 



LADY LAURA. 213 

the door and rushed in to find Laura 
asleep on the sofa. She started up, 
screamed with terror, threw herself into 
his arms, and fainted. Her child was 
born in the night.' 

< Is it alive ? ' 

'No, dead.' 

' She had been looking forward to it 
day and night,' said Cassandra, ' and I 
have killed it.' 

Khoos said nothing. 

'And Laura, you say, is dying,' she 
said. 

' No, I do not say dying, only in very 
serious danger.' 

Neither of them spoke for some 
minutes. Cassandra's feelings were too 
mixed to find relief in expression, and 
Rhoos divined that any words of con- 
solation would be vain. 

After a little pause he said, — 

1 1 had a favour to ask of you.' 



214 LADY LAURA. 

Cassandra started. There was one 
favour she lived in daily dread of his 
asking of her — one she could never grant, 
and yet which she knew not how she 
could refuse after accepting so much 
kindness from him. But her alarm was 
needless this time. He went on, — 

1 We want you, if you have no other 
plan, to go down as soon as possible to 
Ardgwen. My mother has been tele- 
graphed for, and we expect her in the 
course of a few hours. But my father 
cannot be left alone, and if you would go 
to him it would be a great comfort to us 
all. Mary has offered to go, and I have 
done my best to discourage the idea. I 
think you would be a more comfortable 
companion at this moment. He will be 
terribly cut up. Anything that touches 
Laura, you know ' 

' Yes, I know,' said Cassandra, 'and it 
is all my fault.' 



LADY LAURA. 215 

' Do not exaggerate that idea. What 
has happened is connected with your 
fault. But Laura has been in a morbid 
state for a long time, Kachel tells me. 
It might all have come about even 
though you had stayed at Nant-y-Gwyn.' 

1 It is my fault,' she repeated. 

1 About going to Ardgwen,' said Ehoos, 
who was determined to keep conversa- 
tion to the safe point of practical action. 
' About going to Ardgwen. If it would 
not be very inconvenient to you, it would 
be a great kindness to go. You are the 
fittest person in every way. And now 
that, of course, the reading must be given 
up, we thought you could not have any- 
thing to keep you in London. But if 
for any reason you dislike the plan, 
pray say so, and we will arrange some- 
thing else.' 

Cassandra did not answer. She was 
looking absently away, hearing what he 



216 LADY LAURA. 

said without attending to it. He said 
again, — 

'Pray do not hesitate to say if the 
plan is disagreeable to you.' 

And she recalled herself with an effort. 

1 1 beg your pardon, I really don't 
quite know what it was you proposed, 
I was thinking of Laura. May I go to 
her?' 

' That is impossible ; she is in raving 
delirium. No one but the nurse and 
Maurice are allowed in the room, and 
he is only there on condition of not 
speaking to her.' 

' What was it that you proposed that I 
should do ? ' 

Khoos told her over again, and she 
consented to go. He went out at once 
to telegraph to Mrs. Gwynne that she 
was coming, and then returned to settle 
details with her. He undertook all 
necessary arrangements for her, and 



LADY LAURA. 217 

promised to send Sarah to see her 
before she went. 

As she wished him good-bye her voice 
faltered and she said, — 

1 1 wish you would not be so kind to 
me. I can never repay you, and it makes 
me miserable to know it.' 

c You need not fear me,' he answered. 
1 If ever I ask anything of you that is not 
wholly in your own interest it will not be 
in the name of benefits conferred. I 
hoped you knew me better than to think 
I would urge such a rotten title as that.' 

' 1 have nothing to give,' said Cassan- 
dra ; ' one title is as good as another. I 
can only thank you.' 

' You would probably not do even that 
if you knew what it is that you really 
owe me. I have a debt to you which I 
am trying to pay.' 

She felt bewildered, but did not press 
for an explanation. When it came later 



2i8 LADY LAURA. 

from another quarter, it moved her very 
little. It belonged to her fate that those 
who loved her best should make her 
wretched. 

For days Laura lay between life and 
death. And every post carried to Ardgwen 
the news that there was no news. She 
was still delirious, the doctors still refused 
to speak of hope. Every day added to 
the danger of the reaction that was in- 
evitable as soon as the fever should sub- 
side ; every day Cassandra came home 
with a heavier heart from her walk to 
Cresford in search of the afternoon 
letters ; every day she found it a harder 
task so to soften the truth to Lord St. 
Asaph as to keep him from starting for 
London. 

The spectacle of his sorrow was a 
torturing reproach to her. Anxiety for 
Laura had made him for the first time in 
his life forget to be anxious about him- 



LADY LAURA. 219 

self, at the same time that it made him 
really ill and unfit for the journey he 
wanted to undertake. During the past 
year his health had grown rapidly worse ; 
his mind was failing, and real physical 
ailments had been added to imaginary 
ones. The shock of hearing that Laura 
was dangerously ill had brought on a sort 
of fit from which he did not rally. Cas- 
sandra was shocked at his condition when 
she came down. He seemed to have 
grown twenty years older, the blow had 
brought him to his dotage. And this too 
was her doing. 

She was a very gentle nurse to him, 
and he was grateful to her, and every 
word of gratitude was a new reproach. 
He talked of Laura continually, compar- 
ing her with her sisters, and saying how 
inestimably superior she was to them all. 

' She was the only one who was gentle/ 
he used to say, ' the only one who had 



220 LADY LAURA. 

any tenderness. She used to understand 
that I was ill and to be patient with me. 
She belonged to my family; the others 
are like their mother. Come here/ 

And he led Cassandra to look at the 
picture of the other Lady Laura. 

'Did it ever strike you how like she 
was to that ? ' he asked. ' That girl died 
two hundred years ago because her people 
were not tender to her. And they hid 
away her picture in a lumber room, and 
it stayed there till I found it the other 
day and had it hung here. It was at 
the time your father was ill, and I and 
my wife came over in a hurry from 
Florence and had to stay on several 
months. It was then that she was born, 
and I called her Laura after the picture.' 

He held the light up to the canvas, and 
they both looked at the portrait. The 
likeness to Laura had never struck Cas- 
sandra so forcibly before : it was the 



LADY LAURA. 221 

Laura of those last few weeks in London, 
the wreck that she was answerable for. 

She thought of what might have been 
and what was, and she turned away to 
look at the other pictures in the room, — 
at Lady St. Asaph's splendour of strong 
youth, at the genius in the countenance 
of her husband, at the innocent prettiness 
of the little Laura in the coral necklace. 
The same story seemed written on them 
all, — unfulfilled promise, baffled purpose, 
great aims with pitiable results. Wealth, 
beauty, genius, love — all the gifts life 
covets, lavished in mockery instead of 
blessing. 

Lord St. Asaph was still looking at the 
portrait of his ancestress. 

' She died young too,' he said. 

' At seventeen,' said Cassandra. ' Laura 
is almost twenty.' 

1 Is she ? I always think of her as a 
child. It seems but yesterday that she 



222 LADY LAURA. 

was born. She was the only one who 
was born here. The others were all born 
in London, except Egmont, and he was 
born at Florence. But she belonged to 
the place. I suppose it was foolish of 
me, but I fancied she would always stay 
here. She was fond of the place and 
never wanted to go away, and every- 
body was fond of her, — that was the 
worst of it. I suppose if I had not given 
her to Maurice Heme, some one else 
would have taken her. I wonder whether 
he has been kind to her. I don't know, 
but I sometimes doubt it. She did not 
look well when she was here at Whitsun- 
tide. She had a pinched look like the 
girl in the picture. It used to haunt 
me. If she gets well I shall have her 
back and keep her — she can't go away 
any more. I hate having my children 
out of my sight. People are careless. . . . 
Besides I can do nothing without her. 



LADY LAURA. 223 

I have not written a line that is good 
for anything since she went. I must 
have her back if she gets well. But 
there is no chance of her getting well — 
no chance of it. Nine days of delirium, 
the prostration will be terrible, she can 
never rally from it. I know what pros- 
tration is.' 

'Yes, but you have rallied from it. 
People make wonderful recoveries, espe- 
cially young people.' 

' But she is not strong ; she has in- 
herited my constitution, she is like me 
altogether. I wish I knew whether that 
fellow has been kind to her. Why don't 
you say what you think of him, Cas- 
sandra ? You know him well — he is your 
cousin or something of that sort. But 
women never say what they think, ex- 
cept my wife. I don't think she trusted 
him altogether. But Khoos was set 
upon it. He urged it on and persuaded 



224 LADY LAURA. 

me it was for the best. I was too yield- 
ing. That has been my fault all my life. 
And Khoos is overbearing, he is more 
like his mother than me. I wonder why 
he was so set on this marriage.' 

' Let me sing to you,' said Cassandra ; 
and she led him back to the drawing-room, 
and went to the piano and sang him 
one song after another till he complained 
that the noise tired him. Then she came 
and sat by his couch again, and listened 
patiently to his complainings till bed-time. 

The days passed monotonously. Every 
morning after breakfast she went over to 
the rectory and stayed with her mother 
till twelve, the time at which Lord St. 
Asaph left his room. Then she went to 
him, and read to him as long as he would 
listen. After that she walked with him 
round the garden if it was fine, or sang 
to him if the weather kept them in-doors. 
At four o'clock regularly she started on 



LADY LAURA. 225 

her walk to Cresford to fetch the letter 
that would tell about Laura; and the even- 
ing went in listening to such rambling 
talk as I have described. It was weary 
work, but she was thankful that it had 
been given to her to do. 

At last news came of a change in 
Laura's condition. The fever had sub- 
sided : she was conscious again, but 
utterly prostrate. The next forty- eight 
hours would decide. Next came a tele- 
gram telling of increased prostration. 
Rhoos inquired whether it would be 
quite impossible for Lord St. Asaph to 
come to town. Laura was fully con- 
scious and had asked for him. 

But nothing was said about Cassandra, 
and she felt that the worst punishment 
was coming upon her. Laura was dying, 
fully conscious and without relenting 
towards her. 

Lord St. Asaph read the great agooy in 

vol. in. 15 



226 LADY LAURA. 

her face and thought his child was dead. 
He burst into tears and asked if it was 
so. She showed him the telegram, and he 
insisted that he was well enough to go. 

She had not the heart to oppose him, 
— she knew what it was to love Laura 
and not be allowed to go to her. 

She took upon herself the responsi- 
bility of his going, and sent a note to her 
mother enclosing the telegram and saying 
that she was making arrangements for 
her uncle to travel to London that night. 
She must go with him of course, and 
there was too much to be done for it to 
be possible for her to come to the rectory 
before starting. Would her mother come 
to her ? 

Her father came too, and said he 
would go instead of her. But before it 
was time to start another telegram came 
and told them the danger was past. A 
favourable turn had taken place almost 



LADY LAURA. 227 

immediately after the despatch of the 
first telegram, and now with care and 
patience they might count on all going 
well. Cassandra rang the hell violently 
and then ran out herself to stop the 
carriage. 

Later in the evening she said suddenly 
to her mother, — 

1 If she had died I should have been a 
murderess. It was all my fault. Did 
you know it ? ' 

' I guessed, my child,' said the mother, 
and she kissed her. That was all that 
ever passed between them on the subject. 

Immediate, threatening danger was 
past, but for weeks the house in Chester 
Place lay under the shadow of the most 
serious anxiety. The slightest cold 
might produce a relapse, the slightest 
relapse could hardly fail to be fatal. But 
unremitting care and a healthy constitu- 
tion brought Laura safely through all 



228 LADY LAURA. 

risks, and before the end of September 
Lady St. Asaph was allowed to bring her 
down to Ardgwen. 

A few days before they came, Cassandra 
was relieved from her charge of Lord 
St. Asaph by the arrival of Lady Mary, 
who would have come long before but 
for Rhoos's ingenuity. He knew that 
Ardgwen could not hold her and Cas- 
sandra at the same time, and he was 
determined that Cassandra should not 
be ousted. Accordingly he persuaded 
his sister that her presence in London 
was indispensable so long as Laura's 
state continued critical. Their mother, 
who had been indefatigable in nursing, 
to an extent that was telling on her 
own strength, might knock up at any 
moment, Sarah was wanted at Llanoun, 
and Eachel, though she had stayed in 
London expressly on Laura's account, 
allowing her husband to drink the waters 



LADY LAURA. 229 

of Vichy in solitude, was too nighty to 
be depended upon in case of emergency. 

Lady Mary was open to flattery that 
addressed itself to her superior sense, 
and she forebore from disturbing Cas- 
sandra by personal invasion of the castle. 
She contented herself with writing her 
long letters of instruction in the art of 
entertaining her charge, which Cassandra 
answered as shortly as she could, and 
practically disregarded. 

Cassandra was reluctant to leave Lord 
St. Asaph to the tender mercies of his 
daughter, but she recognised the neces- 
sity of being gone before Laura came, 
and she was grateful to Ehoos for the 
considerate care with which he had pro- 
vided for the contingency. 

On leaving the castle she spent a few 
days at the rectory, and then returned to 
Wimpole Street to resume her lectures 
to young girls, and prepare for a course 



230 LADY LAURA. 

of dramatic readings to be given in the 
winter season, for she was fully resolved 
to go on with the life of independence 
she had planned. 





CHAPTER VIII. 

1 So but thou strive, thou soon shalt see 
Defeat itself is victory. ' 

ITH the return of spring Laura 
was pronounced fairly recovered, 
and Lord and Lady St. Asaph 
had to resign themselves to letting her 
go back to London. Maurice was im- 
patient to take her home, and she was 
eager to go, though as the time of depar- 
ture drew near she felt more sad than 
glad. 

She was loth to leave Ardgwen and all 
the home tenderness that it held for her ; 
she wondered sometimes whether she 
had not been to blame in leaving parents 



232 LADY LAURA. 

who wanted her so much, and whether 
perhaps the sorrows of the past year had 
not come in punishment of her selfishness. 
But such considerations she knew were 
useless. Her duty was now toward her 
husband, as also her strongest affection. 
She had no doubt of that and no wish 
that it were otherwise, only she grieved, 
as we all do sometimes, that the dis- 
pensation that was happiest for her- 
self had its drawback on the side of 
others. 

The months of her convalescence had 
been for her a sweet and solemn holiday- 
time, in which, by dint of passive brooding 
rather than active reasoning, she had 
arrived at truer conceptions of her married 
life than she had been able to shape for 
herself before. She could see now clearly 
that of those sins of omission which had 
undermined her reverence for her husband 
she was herself directly or indirectly the 



LADY LAURA. 233 

cause. In serving Mammon rather than 
God he was sacrificing to the prejudices 
of her friends, and while she kept silence 
he might naturally believe that the 
sacrifice was acceptable to her. If he 
had been weak in this matter it was with 
a weakness born of his love for her. And 
his relations with Cassandra — the other 
rock on which her happiness had risked 
wrecking — she had learned also to regard 
in a truer light. The promised expla- 
nation had never yet been made, and she 
was content to forego it altogether. All 
that she cared to know was that her 
husband still loved her tenderly and 
loyally, and of this she had assurance 
stronger than any that mere words could 
give. 

She might still doubt of many things, 
but she had no doubt left as to her hus- 
band's love. She rather doubted whether 
there were any purposes or principles in 



234 LADY LAURA. 

life the neglect or pursuit of which could 
fairly be weighed against the possession 
of his love. It seemed to her that hence- 
forth it would suffice her, and that she 
would not again be tempted to repine 
because her sphere of usefulness was 
smaller than she had thought to find it. 
It would console her for the disappoint- 
ment of the hope she had nursed through 
the last summer. It w T ould be enough 
for her even if that hope were never to 
be revived. 

She did not want any explanation 
about Cassandra, but she longed daily 
for a reconciliation with her. All bitter 
thoughts of her had passed away — in 
her own contentment, they turned to pity 
for her who never could be so content. 
For gradually the story of Cassandra's love 
and hope and disappointment had become 
clear to her ; all the confused indications 
of the past, Cassandra's dark hints, her 



LADY LAURA. 235 

own complicated misconceptions, chance 
words and looks of others, and all the 
incidents of the summer, had fallen into 
their right places, so that she could read 
them in connected narrative. She un- 
derstood, and pitied, and forgave, and 
resolved that almost the first thing she 
would do on returning to London would 
be to seek her cousin and be reconciled 
with her. In the meanwhile she had 
no difficulty in keeping herself informed 
as to her doings, for they were much 
talked of both at the rectory and castle ; 
and, at first, with strong disapprobation 
from every one except Lord St. Asaph, 
whose old predilection for Cassandra had 
been much strengthened by the sweetness 
with which she had borne with him dur- 
ing her six weeks' charge. He never failed 
to take her part when things were said 
or looked against her, and so by degrees 
Lady St. Asaph ceased to frown at men- 



236 LADY LAURA. 

tion of her name, and Lady Mary learned 
to be silent. Then, by-and-by, came re- 
ports of her brilliant successes. She 
was the star of the winter season, 
and — nothing succeeding like success 
— opinion began to veer round in her 
favour. Her father, who had been bitter 
against her plan of an independent life 
supported by class-teaching, grew proud 
of her as she rose in favour with the 
fashionable world. He took to himself 
the credit of her gifts, and was gracious 
when people congratulated him on her 
triumphs. 

Anna alone was consistent in disapprov- 
ing. She could not understand, she said, 
why it was more noble and philanthropic 
to make money by being the fashion in 
London than to stay quietly among one's 
own people and do the duty that 
belonged to one. She made the obser- 
vation one day to Laura, but Laura did 



LADY LAURA. 237 

not answer. It was in her mind that 
Cassandra did not probably derive much 
enjoyment from her success. 

Though Laura was well-informed as to 
Cassandra's movements, Cassandra was 
in ignorance of Laura's, for the family 
at the rectoiy were bad correspondents. 
Mrs. Gwynne's fluency of talk deserted 
her the moment she took pen in hand, 
and her letters were affectionate and 
frequent without giving much infor- 
mation. Mr. Grwynne prided himself 
on being too busy a man to write 
on any but business occasions. And 
Anna, though she conscientiously sent 
her sister a fortnightly budget, had a 
knack of omitting to mention the things 
Cassandra was dying to hear. Once, 
four weeks passed without a word being 
said about Laura's health, though the 
last news of her had been that the east 
winds of the early spring had occasioned 



238 LADY LAURA. 

a relapse into weakness. Cassandra 
wrote repeatedly, ' How is Laura ? ' and 
when at last the question was answered 
it was with apparent unconsciousness 
that there had been long silence as to 
the special cause of anxiety. Intelligence 
came more regularly for a time, then 
it stopped again and Cassandra grew 
uneasy. She could not bring herself 
to press her sister any more ; it was 
too obvious that her neglect was inten- 
tional. 

She knew moreover that there was a 
stern righteousness about Anna which 
would have made her write in spite of 
herself had there been anything of vital 
importance to tell, and she tried to per- 
suade herself that no news was good 
news and that her anxiety was ground- 
less. But she could not reason away her 
uneasiness, and at last, one evening, she 
made up her mind to go to Chester 



LADY LAURA. 239 

Place and inquire at the house. She was 
surprised, on approaching it, to see open 
shutters and other signs of occupation. 
Evidently they had returned to London, 
and it would not do for her to call, as 
Laura might misunderstand her purpose. 

She was turning away, when a carriage 
stopped at the door and a lady handed 
out cards to a maidservant whom Cassan- 
dra quickly perceived to be a stranger. 
It struck her that this being the case she 
might call without being recognised, and 
before the girl had time to leave the door 
she came up and made her inquiries. 

1 Has Lady Laura Heme come back to 
town ? ' 

' Yes, ma'am, she returned last Friday 
week.' 

< Is she better ? ' 

1 Yes, ma'am, thank you. Her lady- 
ship is doing nicely now. She generally 
sees people in the afternoon, but to-day 



240 LADY LAURA. 

she is lying down and I was to say she 
could not see visitors.' 

' I did not expect to see her,' said 
Cassandra ; and she lingered a moment on 
the doorstep in vague desire to get some 
information, hut unahle to think of ques- 
tions that might elicit it. 

' Would you like to leave a message, 
ma'am ? ' 

' No, thank you ; I had nothing special 
to say. I am glad Lady Laura is better. 
Good afternoon.' 

And Cassandra went away leaving the 
new maid rafcher puzzled as to the strange 
lady who would leave neither card nor 
message, who did not expect to see any- 
body, and yet seemed so disinclined 
to go. 

The door of Laura's bedroom was ajar, 
and as she lay on her sofa in a luxurious 
dreamland, half-way between sleeping 
and waking, she overheard the dialogue 



LADY LAURA. 241 

that was passing at the door, and recog- 
nised Cassandra's voice. 

She rose from the sofa and rang the 
bell. 

The maid brought with her the cards 
of the lady who had called at the same 
moment with Cassandra. 

Laura glanced at them. 

' Had any one else been ? ' 

The maid described Cassandra's visit 
of inquiry. 

1 1 know who it was,' said Laura. ' I 
would have seen her, but you could not 
guess it. Will you send for a cab for 
me at once ? I must go out this after- 
noon.' 

Laura began to dress herself while she 
spoke, and the maid wondered what had 
possessed her mistress. She had com- 
plained of languor half-an-hour ago, and 
had said she must not be disturbed all 
the afternoon. But there was no languor 

vol. in. 16 



242 LADY LAURA. 

about her now : there was a flush on her 
cheek and a clear light in her eye, and 
all her movements were prompt and 
energetic. She was in the hall, bonneted 
and cloaked, before the cab was at the 
door. She was so impatient to be gone 
that she forgot to leave word when she 
was likely to come in, and she had to 
turn back from the end of the street to 
say that she might perhaps be late, but 
that it would be of no consequence, as her 
husband was not coming in to dinner. 

Cassandra had not returned to Wim- 
pole Street by the time Laura got there, 
and the servant of the house could not 
say how long she might stay out. Laura 
said she would wait for her, and she was 
shown into the sitting-room. 

She took off her cloak and bonnet and 
sat down to wait. She had come to take 
up their friendship on its old terms, and 
Cassandra should find her waiting in the 






LADY LAURA. 243 

old intimate way in which she had often 
waited in her bedroom at Nant-y-Gwyn. 

She pictured to herself Cassandra's 
return, the surprise with which she would 
discover her, the mutual joy with which 
they would rush together. She saw the 
breach quite healed, life blamelessly happy 
again. 

She was so impatient for Cassan- 
dra's return that she could not sit still- 
She wandered about the room, looking at 
the books and papers, and putting things 
straight. The ordering of detail was not 
among Cassandra's gifts, and her room 
looked less comfortable than it used to do 
in the days when Laura was frequently 
in and out of it. Laura thought she 
must take it in hand again. 

In the course of her tidying she came 
upon the little book Cassandra had once 
lent her. She stood still before it in 
sudden awe. 



244 LADY LAURA. 

It seemed to her the symbol of Cassan- 
dra's pain. She remembered the letter 
with which she had sent it back, and 
thought how cruelly its easy gladness 
must have wounded her to whom it came 
as the knell of gladness. She took it 
reverently in her hand and opened it. 

The green stains were still on the fly- 
leaf, but the inscription they had blurred 
was carefully erased. Laura remembered 
that it had been the passage from Faust 
in which Cassandra had triumphed in 
her reading, — the aspiration to sound the 
heights and depths of life, and exhaust 
the experience of humanity. Below 
it — instead of it — was written another 
motto, also from Goethe. Prose, in place 
of poetry : — 

1 If now during our own lifetime toe 
see that performed by others to which 
we ourselves felt an earlier call, bat had 
been obliged to give up ; then the beauti- 



LADY LAURA. 245 

ful feeling enters the mind that only 
mankind together is the true man, and 
that the individual can only be joyous 
and happy ivhen he has the courage to 
feel himself in the whole? 

Laura laid the book down with a sense 
of having been rebuked. She had as- 
sumed too lightly that she could make 
all things straight again. Personal 
happiness was assured to herself. But 
for Cassandra all that was possible was 
to learn to live without it. 

The door opened and Cassandra stood 
before her. 

They did not rush to one another as 
Laura had thought they would. Cas- 
sandra drew a step back and stood silent. 
Laura came timidly forward and said, — 

' 1 have come to see you, Cassie. I 
want you.' 

Cassandra kissed her coldly and asked 
her to sit down. 



246 LADY LAURA. 

She had been thinking of Laura, night 
and day, with shame and yearning love ; 
she had longed to throw herself at her 
feet and ask her forgiveness. But now 
that Laura stood bodily before her, the 
springs of her repentance seemed dried 
up. She felt herself the victim of an 
imposture. The Laura towards whom 
she had repented was the Laura of the 
haggard eyes and wounded heart, — the 
wife she had supplanted, the mother she 
had robbed of a desired child, the 
suffering woman whose pain she had 
occasioned. 

But of all this there was no trace in 
Laura as she stood now in her presence. 
She looked well and happy, better than 
Cassandra had ever seen her look before. 
For excitement gave colour and anima- 
tion to her appearance, and her pretty 
summer dress set off her beauty in 
bright contrast to the dingy lodging- 



LADY LAURA. 247 

room. She looked so bright and radiant 
that it seemed to Cassandra that she had 
come to triumph over her, and that when 
she said, ' I want you,' she meant, ' I 
want you to come back and look on at my 
triumph; ' and her heart hardened against 
her. Laura was happy : there was no 
longer need to think of her with penitence. 
She was good, and the wrong done could 
not hurt her. It was she, Cassandra, who 
had to bear the suffering as she must 
bear the blame. She would bear it then, 
but she would not show weakness in the 
presence of those who had nothing to 
bear. 

Laura repented that she had come. 
But she had not presence of mind to go 
at once. She sat down as she was 
bidden, and tried to talk of nothings. 
She asked about Cassandra's doings, and 
Cassandra answered that she was very 
busy. Besides the classes she had under- 



248 LADY LAURA. 

taken last year, she was now giving 
private lessons, and she had a great many 
engagements for evening readings. She 
talked like a successful woman who had 
nothing left to desire, and Laura was 
taken in. 

After a few minutes of such talk she 
rose to go, and Cassandra did not gainsay 
her. She helped her to dress and wished 
her good-bye as coldly as she had received 
her. Laura had difficulty in repressing 
her tears as she went to the door. 

But before she had passed the thresh- 
old, she heard Cassandra say, ' Laura ! ' 
and she turned back. 

Cassandra was sitting by the table 
with her head bowed down, and her 
face buried in her hands. She did not 
look up as Laura turned, and Laura 
thought she must have been mistaken in 
fancying herself recalled, and moved once 
more towards the doo:. 



LADY LAURA. 249 

' Laura, do not go,' said Cassandra, 
and she looked up beseechingly. 

Laura came back to the table. 

' I will stay if you wish it. I thought 
you did not want me. You ' 

' I know, but stay. I had so much to 
say to you, but when you came, I . . . . 
Oh, Laura, forgive me ! ' 

Laura put her arms round Cassandra's 
neck and kissed her. 

' Laura,' Cassandra said presently, 'I 
have been wanting to see you, hoping 
every day that you would come, for I 
knew that it was like you to come. I 
wanted to ask your forgiveness — to tell 
you everything. But when you came, a 
demon seemed to possess me, and I could 
not speak.' 

' Tiitr. is no need to speak,' said Laura. 

1 You have forgiven me,' continued 
Cassandra. ' I know that, or you would 
not have come.' 



250 LADY LAURA. 

Laura answered with a silent caress. 

Cassandra went on, — 

' I did wrong and I brought sorrow 
upon you. But your sorrow has passed, 
and joy and peaee have come back to 
you. With me it is different ; peace can 
never come back to me.' 

1 Hush, dearest. Do not say that ; it 
will come back. You meant no wrong. 
Peace will come back to you.' 

Cassandra shook her head. 

' No, the world is ordered otherwise. 
Peace is for those who have never done 
wrong — never even known it. My peace 
died long ago when I was almost a child, 
and if I wanted to make excuses it is 
that that I should plead. My peace was 
taken away, and I had to live without it.' 

' But it will come back,' Laura re- 
peated. 

' Never,' said Cassandra. ' Shall I tell 
you what my life has been lately ? I nave 



LADY LAURA. 251 

gone on with my work, because they told 
me it was right to do so — and I have 
been successful. People have paid me 
compliments, and I have enjoyed them 
for a few hours and then come home here 
to despair and misery. — Is that peace ? ' 

Laura did not answer. She was taking 
to heart the hardest lesson of life, that 
there are griefs past cure, lives broken 
beyond our mending. 

'You see there is no peace for me. 
All that is left to me now is repentance 
and work. But I do not mean to go on 
with this life I am leading now. It has 
become hateful to me. People look 
askance at me as a woman and run after 
me as a lion. I have made up my mind 
that it shall end with this season. I 
have told PJioos so ; it was he who said 
I must not stop at once.' 

' And what will you do instead ? ' 
Laura asked. 



252 LADY LAURA. 

1 To begin with, I mean to be a hospital 
nurse. 1 

Laura felt inclined to cry. That the 
brilliant Cassandra should end by being a 
hospital nurse seemed the most impotent 
of all conclusions. 

1 But is not that a very hard and dreary 
life ? Surely you might do something 
else. With your talents, Cassandra. . . ?' 

' My talents have not brought me 
much happiness,' Cassandra answered 
sadly. 'I am beginning to lose faith 
in them. I want work of which I can 
never doubt the usefulness, and the 
life I choose now will give me that. 
Besides I am fond of nursing. The 
happiest hours of my life have been 
those in which I was doing work of the 
kind I am thinking of falling back upon 
now.' 

' But then you had other things to fill 
up your life. As a hospital nurse you 



LADY LAURA. 253 

will have nothing but nursing, and you 
will not even be your own mistress.' 

' I am tired of being my own mistress,' 
said Cassandra drearily. 

Laura said no more. 

Presently Cassandra spoke again : — 

1 1 once thought I might do something, 
but I had not courage, and I was not 
honest, and I waited, always thinking 
that something might happen to take me 
away into a more congenial world where 
I could be straightforward and simple. 
But it does not do to pin one's hope 
on things outside oneself. I always 
knew it. I remember used to be fond 
of saying so. That is the thing that 
puzzles me most in all this. I have done 
everything contrary to my principles — to 
my nature almost. But it is over now. 
.... Only, Laura, there was one thing 
more that I wanted to say to you. You 
see I am like a person who is dying. You 



254 LADY LAURA. 

must let me talk on, because I am going 
out of the world and shall not have 
another chance. I wanted to say to you 
that, though I have brought you so much 
trouble, I loved you all the time. It 
happened partly because I could not give 
you up — at least I think so. Yes, I 
always loved you, and you used to love 
me, I think.' 

' Why do you say used, Cassie ? 
Should I be here now if I did not love 
you still ? ' 

' You love me — yes — but it is a different 
kind of love from what you used to feel 
for me. You cannot help it, but it is 
different. You pity me now, you used 
to look up to me, — at least I thought 
so, but perhaps that was a delusion like 
everything else.' 

1 Cassandra,' said Laura, ' you must not 
talk like this, I did look up to you, 
and I do still. I owe you all that is best 



LADY LAURA. 255 

in myself. I owe you what I can never 
pay. Why will you talk to me as if I 
were a child and could not understand 
your wretchedness ? I think I know just 
how it was with you. You were alone 
and you felt too weak to do all you 
had dreamed of doing, and you thought 
help was coming, and then it failed you 
and you despaired.' 

I Laura,' said Cassandra, ' you do not 
know how I bless you.' 

'And you do not know how I love 
you,' said Laura. ' You must not doubt 
it again. You must come and see me 
soon — often.' 

Cassandra smiled sadly at the innocent 
suggestion. Not all the wisdom of life 
is revealed to the babes and sucklings 
— there are some points in which the 
world-experienced can instruct them still. 

I I shall never come to you any more,' 
she said. 



256 LADY LAURA. 

Laura felt that her decision was final, 
and they were both silent for a time, 
during which Cassandra walked im- 
patiently up and down the room, while 
Laura sat still, wondering at the strange 
series of events that had brought their 
friendship to this end. 

Suddenly Cassandra stood still, and 
began to speak in a different tone from 
that in which she had talked of herself 
and begged forgiveness. Her voice was 
low, but there was a tone of authority 
in it, and there was a look like inspira- 
tion in her eyes. 

1 Laura,' she said; 'I have hidden 
nothing from you. I have confessed to 
you that I am utterly wretched — painful 
as it must be to you to know it. I have 
told it to you because you are the only 
person to whom I can speak and be under- 
stood, and because in my wretchedness I 
have grown so selfish that I must wring 



LADY LAURA. 257 

a little comfort for myself even at the 
cost of another's pain. And I do not 
repent of having spoken. Your joy has 
been bought at the cost of my misery. 
My misery has overflowed into your life 
and embittered it with what may be a 
lasting pain. You know it and you have 
forgiven me. You have accepted the pain 
as your share — a sister's share — in my 
lot. You do not wish to go free from 
sorrow while others are weighed down by 
it. You would not, if you could, blot out 
of your memory what has passed between 
us to-day. You would not go home de- 
luded with the thought that by a few 
kind words given out of the abundance 
of your blessedness you had made me 
happy when in truth I am not happy. 
Tell me that you would not.' 

There was a fierce solemnity in her 
voice which Laura caught in her reply. — 

' I swear to you that I would not.' 

VOL. III. 17 



258 LADY LAURA. 

'I believe you,' said Cassandra, 'I 
do believe you. I feel sure that you will 
never be content in a fool's paradise of 
personal happiness, that you will never 
harbour the hateful lie that all is well with 
the world because all is well with you. 
"When your own cup of happiness is fullest 
you will remember that every drop of it 
has been refined in the heart's agony of 
another. You will take every joy that 
comes to you as a new debt to your 
fellow-creatures. You do feel this, 
Laura ? ' 

1 I do. I have felt it vaguely for a long 
time. I feel it now as a law I must obey.' 

'Yes, that is right; it is a law and 
you must obey it. — Oh, Laura, you have 
spoken of my talents. Let me speak of 
them for a moment now that all tempta- 
tion to glory in them is gone for ever. 
I never undervalued myself, — none but a 
fool does that. I knew that I was beauti- 



LADY LAURA. 259 

ful and had genius, that I could sing as 
few artists can, that I could speak so as 
to move people, that I could think like a 
man and feel like a woman. I knew that 
I had great gifts, and I gloried in them — 
I dreamed that I could do much with 
them, and that in using them I could 
find all I wanted in life. I thought I 
could do without happiness and be con- 
tent in making others happy. But I 
could not.' 

Here her voice sank to a whisper. 
She laid her hand on Laura's hand, and 
Laura felt the touch thrill her as though 
some power independent of words was 
being brought to bear upon her. 

' Laura,' she went on, i that is the 
thing I most wanted to say to you. 
People can't do without happiness. To 
be unhappy is to be maimed, diseased, 
stunted, — to have one's heart soured, 
one's judgment perverted, one's whole 



260 LADY LAURA. 

life turned into temptation. People 
must be happy. And it is your duty 
to make them so ; for you are happy. 
Yes, you are very happy. The best 
happiness is yours — such as alone makes 
men and women whole and sound and 
able to help others in the highest. This 
happiness is yours — is it not ? ' 

' I think so — I believe so.' 

'I Jcnozv it is so. And it is a gift 
beyond all others. You spoke of my 
gifts, Laura. They are nothing by the 
side of yours. Mine are the gifts that 
make it possible to serve ; yours is the 
gift of royalty that lifts you above the 
wants and the dependence of the many 
and enables you to bless and save as a 
god.' 

'But, Cassandra, it is not true — it 
cannot be true, that only the happy can 
help others and make them happy. You 
helped me ! ' 



LADY LAURA. 261 

* I helped you — yes. But it was not 
I who made you happy. I helped 
Maurice, but it was not I who made 
him happy.' 

Laura was silent. 
Cassandra went on, — 

* You cannot contradict me. You 
know that I am right/ 

'You frighten me. What you say is 
terrible. It is despair for all but a very 
few.' 

'It must not be so much longer,' said 
Cassandra. ' But it will be so for ever 
if people shrink from facing the truth. 
You asked me once to tell you about 
my faith, and I avoided your ques- 
tions. I might have told you much 
about systems of philosophy — about or- 
ganisation of society — about science and 
art and industry. But I would not. 
These things are necessary and, in their 
measure, good. But they are imperfect 



262 LADY LAURA. 

and transient. They pass away or 
change. They can never fill our hearts 
or be to us instead of God. They are 
not a faith — they cannot be built up 
into a religion. But there is a religion 
for us as well as for our fathers, — a 
Keligion of Humanity that will use and 
control these things in the future, as the 
Keligion of God used and controlled them 
in the past. It is much simpler than 
any system, and at the same time 
much harder, for like the religions of 
the past it is made up of devotion and 
self-sacrifice — of prayer and dependence 
on the one side, of mercy and help on 
the other. We have dared to say that 
man must no longer look to God for 
help. We must not stop there. We 
must go on to say — All that man 
once asked of God, he must ask hence- 
forth of his fellow ; all that man believed 
God to be in the past, he must himself 



LADY LAURA. 263 

be in the future. That is the new 
covenant. We must be gods on earth, 
or we shall be eternally condemned for 
having hinted that there is no God in 
heaven.' 

' But we are so weak. It sounds like 
blasphemy to talk of being gods.' 

' We are weak for ourselves, but we 
may be strong for others if we have 
courage to be true and open. Oh, Laura, 
the law that runs through our lives is 
greater than ourselves, and our part is 
but to make it more clear to others by our 
faithful recognition of it. This we can 
do, whether we succeed or fail.' She 
paused a moment and then began again, 
'7 have failed. I thought to do much. 
I was ambitious. I dreamed that a day 
would come when I should move the 
world widely. But I was not happy. I 
was alone, and a woman can do nothing 
alone. You know how my hopes are 



264 LADY LAURA. 

wrecked and how ray life breaks off here 
in blank failure. ' 

'No,' cried Laura, 'I know nothing of 
the kind. You are still young and all 
your gifts remain to you.' 

Cassandra waved her hand impatiently. 

' Do not torture me with suggesting 
what is impossible. I know that I am 
still young in one sense. I have pro- 
bably forty years or more left to live, and 
there is abundant power of work in me. 
But I have lost faith in myself ; and with- 
out that, one cannot do the best work. 
I have fallen very low in my own eyes, 
and all the strength that is left to me I 
shall need to lift myself up again. I 
have none with which to help others. 
All I have to give is my failure and my 
misery, and these I give to you that 
they may be a perpetual reminder to you 
of the failures and the miseries of all 
the world. You have taken my treasure 



LADY LAURA. 265 

— you must take my debts with it and 
pay them faithfully all your days.' 

1 Cassandra,' said Laura in a low terri- 
fied voice, ■ what can I do ? You say a 
woman who is alone can do nothing ; a 
married woman can do less. She is 
bound to another, she has no will left.' 

'It is not true,' said Cassandra, 'not 
true in your case. You have influence 
over Maurice, but you have not courage 
to use it. He worshipped you when 
he married you. He loves you now. 
You will be to blame if you do not 
use his love to benefit the world. Tell 
him your heart as you have often told it 
to me. Let him know that vour faith is 
your life as his faith once was his life, 
and you will not find him wanting. Oh, 
Laura, forgive me, but it was your own 
fault in part that things went wrong. 
He did not like to take you too literally 
at your word and make you sacrifice 



266 LADY LAURA. 

everything to his gods ; you never told 
him that they had become your gods too.' 

' I have told him now,' said Laura. 

'Yes, and you are one again.' 

' But we are no nearer devotion than 
we were before.' 

' You do not know,' answered Cas- 
sandra, with a characteristic transition 
from enthusiasm to common-sense. 'You 
are only just out of bed. A man cannot 
be blamed for not revolutionising his 
whole life while his wife is lying at the 
point of death. Go on being frank ; tell 
Maurice to-night all that I have said to 
you.' 

Laura looked doubtful. 

' Yes, tell him,' repeated Cassandra. 
' You need not fear me. I am a spent 
ball that has grazed your life in passing 
and now lies dead and harmless. You 
need not fear me.' 

Cassandra turned away and walked to- 



LADY LAURA. 267 

wards the window. She stood looking 
out upon the street, dreamy and silent. 

Laura felt that she was waiting for 
her to speak, that she expected her to 
give some pledge of sincerity and ear- 
nestness, some promise of devotion in 
the future. But she knew not what to 
promise. Since her illness she had 
ceased to trouble herself about the pro- 
blems that had so painfully occupied 
her before. Her diminished strength 
seemed, for the present at any rate, to 
have settled the question of whether 
she should embark upon any work 
of outside usefulness. Whatever might 
have been her duty before, it was 
clear that now she was not fit to 
undertake work, and that her home life 
was more than enough for her. And, 
without quite acknowledging it to her- 
self, she rejoiced in this solution by 
circumstance of the difficulty she had 



268 LADY LAURA. 

been unable to solve for herself. She 
felt that a burden had been lifted from 
her life, and she shrank from any sug- 
gestion that she ought to take it up again. 

It seemed to her that this was what 
Cassandra was asking her to do, and 
she would not answer all at once. 

After a pause, she said, — 

' What is it that you think I ought 
to do ? You speak as if you knew what 
was the best work, as if you had made 
up your mind and everything was clear 
to you. But I cannot make up my i 
mind as to what is right. And the 
more I think of these things, the more 
puzzled I grow. Do not despise me, 
but I grow so puzzled and so tired that 
I sometimes think it is better not to 
think at all, but just to take life as it 
comes, and live from day to day. But 
I daresay I am wrong. Tell me what 
you think one ought to do.' 



LADY LAURA. 269 

c What one ought to do ? ' echoed 
Cassandra wearily, and without turning 
from the window. ' What one ought 
to do ? How can I say ? It is impos- 
sible to chalk out a life for another, 
almost impossible for oneself. I once 
believed in there being a special work 
calling to each one of us. But now I 
doubt it, except for the very few.' 

' And for the few, what is the best 
work for them ? ' 

' The work their inspiration calls them 
to. There is no one work that is best 
for all, of that I am very sure. But I 
am sure also, at least I think I am, 
that if any of us feel a special work 
calling to us again and again, so that, 
though we may turn from it time after 
time, we cannot find rest outside it or 
be happy while it is undone — I think 
then there can be no doubt that that 
is the work to which we ought to give 



2jo LADY LAURA. 

ourselves. Such haunting seems to me 
an inspiration as true as that which 
drives the painter to paint or the poet 
to sing. I think that to doubt it is 
faithlessness, to accept any other life is 
failure. Does it not seem so to you ? ' 

' While you say it, it does, but not at 
other times.' 

Laura waited a moment, and then, with 
a great effort, went on. 

' Cassandra,' she said, 1 1 cannot help 
it. I am not as great as you think I 
am. I have no inspiration. No great 
work calls me. I once thought it did, 
but I know now that I was mistaken. 
I am not great, I can do nothing. If 
I promised, I should disappoint you. 
Let me go, or I shall promise and be 
unfaithful after all. Cassandra, I must 
go. I am not what you think I am. 
Let me say good-bye and go.' 

Cassandra started and took Laura's 



LADY LAURA. 271 

hands, which were stretched out in fare- 
well. 

' Forgive me,' she said; 'I was not 
thinking of yon, but of myself. It is 
to me that I think a special work calls. 
It is I who must devote myself as I 
have always dreamed of doing, or accept 
failure for my whole life. I was think- 
ing of myself, not of you. For you, I 
think you are right — no special work 
calls you.' 

( I am not great enough for it,' said 
Laura humbly. ' I must be happy. I 
am selfish : I know it. And weak : I 
cannot help it. Let me go, Cassandra, 
I cannot bear that you should despise 
me.' 

But Cassandra did not let her go. 
She held her hands, and looked into her 
eyes wistfully and appealingly. 

' There is no fear of my despising you,' 
she said. l You misunderstand me. You 



272 LADY LAURA. 

think I want yon to do some great special 
work, and that you are not great enough 
for it ; whereas special work is just 
what I think you are not called upon 
to do. Not because it is too great for 
you, or you are too little for it, but 
because for you a normal life is possible, 
and a normal life is always best. There 
is nothing unusual in your character, 
or your circumstances, no extraordinary 
endowment or maiming defect, such as 
throws people out of the usual beats 
of life. You have been happy all your 
life, with the exception of this one year, 
— happy in your own character, in your 
affections, in your circumstances. And 
you are going to be happy again. ' 

' And being happy, you said I could 
help most. How ? ' 

' In this way. All are not equally 
happy ; all cannot be equally happy. 
But there is a sort of communism pos- 



LADY LAURA. 273 

sible in happiness. The unhappy have 
a claim upon the happy ; the happy 
have a debt towards the unhappy.' 

'But how can one share one's happi- 
ness with others ? It seems to me im- 
possible. It is what I have most wished 
to do, but I see no way in which it 
can be done. 7 

'In one sense certainly you cannot 
share your happiness, and you cannot 
give it away. It is essentially your own, 
a development of your being, a part of 
yourself that you may not alienate. To 
give it up would be a barren sacrifice, 
a mistake of fanaticism that would better 
no one. And yet there have been those 
who, feeling strongly the inequalities of 
life, have been driven by an enthusiasm 
of sympathy to renounce the happiness 
they could not share with their fellows.' 

' I have sometimes thought they were 
right.' 

VOL. III. 18 



274 LADY LAURA. 

'I know. It is a phase one passes 
through. But it is a mistake, and one 
you are not likely to fall into again. 
You are more likely to fall into the 
opposite error, more likely to end as 
many who began as you began, with 
quick sympathies and a passionate desire 
to help, have ended. You are more 
likely to be tempted by-and-by to think 
that after all there is not so much 
misery in the world as you once thought 
there was, or that people might all be 
happy if they would — to believe in what 
people call a law of compensation by 
which things are made even all round. 
It would be a very comfortable law to 
believe in, but unfortunately it is one 
that does not exist. People invent it 
to justify themselves in being selfishly 
content when they have got all they 
want for themselves. And this is what 
you must never do. You must regard 



LADY LAURA. 275 

your happiness as a trust for others, 
which you cannot alienate and may not 
dishonour. You must keep your happi- 
ness pure, because only thus can it be 
an ideal helpful to others, only thus 
can it rouse sympathy in those who are 
striving to realise an ideal for them- 
selves. The moment you allow it to be 
corrupted by selfishness or worldliness, 
it will cease to be ideal, and instead of 
sympathy it will provoke envy, and so 
add bitterness to the lot of those who 
are less favoured. Oh, do you not see 
what a mockery it is for those who are 
striving to be pure and unworldly in the 
midst of privations and disappointments 
when those who are happy use their 
happiness for base and worldly ends — 
how paralysing it is to those who are 
labouring to help others to better ideals, 
when those who have the ideal in their 
grasp degrade it or deny it ? Do you 



276 LADY LAURA. 

not understand how it tempts to scep- 
ticism and despair, and how the opposite 
helps and inspires ? ' 

1 1 do,' said Laura in a whisper. 
'And now you understand what I 
mean when I say that you have a great 
trust to which you must be faithful. 
Oh, Laura, there was a day lately while 
I was at the castle, when your father 
took me into the library and made me 
look at the picture that we all think 
like you. It was at the time when you 
were most ill and we thought you would 
not recover. He held a candle up to 
the face in the canvas and made me 
notice how like you it was, in look and 
expression, and then he told me the story 
of his finding it hidden away in disgrace, 
and of his bringing it out and hanging 
it among the modern portraits. He 
said this was at the time of your birth, 
and then he talked of you as his favourite 



LADY LAURA. 277 

child. Then he went back to the girl 
in the picture, and said she had died 
young. And I knew he was thinking 
that you would be like her in your fate 
as you were like her in look. And I 
felt it too, though I tried to turn from 
the thought. And I looked away at 
the other pictures in the room — at your 
mother's portrait and your father's. 
And I thought of all the promise of their 
youth and of the little that had come of 
it. And I thought of my own girlhood 
and of my powers, and of Maurice and of 
our old friendship, and of you, and how 
I had helped you as a girl, and how we 
had loved one another. It seemed t'o 
me that everything had been wasted, 
and that the end of all our loving and 
aspiring was to be failure and disappoint- 
ment ; and I said to myself that it was 
always so — that disappointment was 
everywhere, and that to purpose greatly 



278 LADY LAURA. 

was but to prepare the greater failure. 
And then you got better, and by-and-by 
I knew that you were quite happy, and 
then I believed again. I said to myself 
that one happy life atones for many that 
are disappointed, — nay, that it is the law 
of life that many strive and suffer and 
fail, in working out the happiness of a 
few, and I thought I could be content 
in thinking of you as one of the few 
who are chosen for blessing. I thought 
I could be content even if I never saw 
you again and never had assurance of 
your forgiveness. I thought I could, 
but I could not. I have told you how 
wretched I have been. Formerly, I 
remember, I used to cling to life in spite 
of sorrow, but lately I have longed for 
death. I was ill, and once I thought 
I should die. And then it came over me 
that I could not die without first seeing 
you. It seemed to me that I had a right 



LADY LAURA. 279 

to claim from you the sympathy and for- 
giveness that I knew I should have 
given if I had been in your place and 
you in mine. I wrote to you ' 

1 I never had your letter.' 

1 I did not send it, and I am glad I 
did not. You have come without my 
summons, and so I know that you are 
here because you too feel the law of 
love, and are not afraid to trust it. 
Your coming is like a promise to me. 
It tells me that you will be faithful in 
your happiness to all that you learned 
when you were unhappy, that you 
believe in the covenant of human sym- 
pathy which will be the consolation of 
the generations of the future.' 

Her voice had grown hoarse with much 
speaking. She paused a moment to re- 
cover it, and then said solemnly, — 

1 Tell me that I am not wrong. Promise 
me that you and Maurice will be faithful.' 



280 LADY LAURA. 

1 Yes, yes, we will be faithful/ said 
Laura in a whisper. 

1 And you will be happy. Laura, you 
must be happy, or I shall feel that I have 
suffered in vain and that my life is 
wholly wasted.' 

She ceased speaking, and there was 
silence in the room. 

A great awe was upon them both, and 
the deepening twilight intensified the 
vision Cassandra's eloquence had called 
up. 

In the small, dim room there was no- 
thing to remind them of the judgments 
of the world, and the street sounds, 
coming up in an inarticulate rumble, 
seemed rather a monotonous accompani- 
ment to thought than an interrupting 
voice. It was one of those rare moments 
of existence when the clamour of temporal 
things is silenced and the voice of the 
spirit becomes intense like the whisper 



LADY LAURA. 2S1 

of rustling leaves to the lonely ear that 
listens in the forest. For Cassandra it 
was a moment reaching far back into 
happier years, rich with kindred enthu- 
siasm, of which the memory came to 
her like a draught of renewed life. She 
felt strong once more, she believed in 
herself, she did not doubt any longer 
that she would be true to the end — 
steadfast in renunciation — unremitting in 
atonement. 

For Laura it was a moment reaching 
forward into years of fruitful work — into 
ages, remote, unthinkable, that should 
be bettered by the faithful service of 
lives now dedicated. She saw as in 
a vision the generations of the future 
submitting their lives in reasonable 
obedience to the immutable laws that 
make right right, and wrong wrong — 
trusting the impulse of affection and 
sacrificing self to the interest of others 



282 LADY LAURA. 

-^finding gladness and peace in the ful- 
filment of the new covenant of human 
sympathy. The cynical might doubt of 
joy, the selfish might scoff at love, but 
she would never heed them. She would 
believe the vision, she would trust its 
teaching. She recalled the evening when 
she knelt by her bedside and trembled 
at the awful dignity involved in the 
love that crowned and throned her. She 
felt that that hour and this were linked 
to one another as the first day and the 
second of her life ; and she bowed down 
her head and prayed that the days to 
come might not fall below their level. 

And then she went home and found 
her husband watching for her on the 
doorstep. 

' I have been with Cassandra,' she 
said, and they went in together and she 
told him what had passed. 





CHAPTEE IX. 

' I do not wish to be moved, but, growing where I was 

growing, 
There more truly to grow, to live where as yet I had 
languished. ' 

|OT many days after the inter- 
view with Laura, Cassandra 
received another visit. She 
had come in from giving a lesson and 
was sitting disconsolately in her room, 
a prey to sad memories. She had tried 
to read, but her mind refused to follow 
the page, and she threw down the book 
and gave herself up to brooding. 

She was not sorry to have her thoughts 
interrupted by the entrance of the maid 
with a card, but she started on seeing 
that it was Khoos's. His last letter had 



284 LADY LAURA. 

been written from Vienna, and he had 
said nothing of coming to England. She 
wondered, too, why he had sent his card 
before him instead of coming straight in 
as was his wont. That he should do so 
seemed to give a formal character to the 
visit, which made her uneasy. 

But, of course, she must see him. She 
told the servant to bring him up, and 
then, before he could come in, she sur- 
veyed herself in the glass and made a 
great effort to drive away from her face 
all traces of weariness and depression, 
for never in her life had the instinct to 
show a brave front to the world been 
stronger in her than at that moment. 
Her effort was successful, and, when 
her visitor entered, she looked bright 
and strong as her old self, and her greet- 
ing was given with a self-possessed 
courtesy that suggested anything but 
embarrassment. 



LADY LAURA. 285 

1 It is very kind of you to come and 
see me,' she said. 

Khoos had not expected to find her 
so calm, and his face betrayed surprise. 
There had been indications, in her late 
letters to him, of a disgust with her way 
of life and an eagerness to break from 
it which had made him uneasy on her 
account. He had imagined her out of 
hope, depressed, in danger of doing 
foolish things ; and he had come over 
with designs based on- these imaginings. 
He had thought, moreover, that she 
would probably suspect his designs as 
soon as she heard that he was there. But 
her calm manner seemed inconsistent 
with such suspicion. Before answering, 
however, he looked at her again and 
thought he detected a slight quiver of 
the lips that belied the quiet of her 
manner. Accordingly he refused to take 
her greeting words as mere conventional 



286 LADY LAURA. 

form, but treated them as a mistaken 
statement which it was important to 
contradict. 

' No,' he said, ' it is not kind of me to 
come to see you. I have come on my 
own business.' 

Cassandra could play her part of uncon- 
cern no longer. Ehoos's second glance 
had found her out, and she was at the end 
of her resources of dissimulation. She 
waited in helpless silence for his next 
word. 

He seemed in no hurry to speak. He 
established himself in his favourite posi- 
tion on the hearth-rug, surveyed the room 
critically, looked once more at Cassandra, 
and at last after a pause of some minutes 
said deliberately, — 

1 Cassandra, do you remember a con- 
versation we had ten years ago in the 
rectory garden when I asked you a 
question and you gave me an answer ? ' 



LADY LAURA. 287 

? Such questions and answers/ said 
Cassandra, ' are not among the things 
that people forget.' 

6 No, they are not. I hear your answer 
now as distinctly as I heard it then. It 
was a very cruel answer, hard in sub- 
stance and scornful in tone, — such an 
answer as a man certainly does not forget.' 

Cassandra was silent. A scene from 
the past had risen before her, a vision of 
a glistening sun-bright hour at the end 
of a day of continuous rain, when Ehoos 
had come to look for her in the rectory 
garden, and had found her working in a 
bed of lilies ankle-deep in mud. He had 
asked her to be his wife, and she had 
told him scornfully that it could not be. 

1 A man does not easily forget such 
words,' Ehoos said again. ' You told 
me that, if you married me, you would 
despise yourself and despise me. You 
taunted me with idleness and self-indul- 



288 LADY LAURA. 

gence and worldliness and a great many 
other faults. That was a long time 
ago.' 

1 Ten years,' said Cassandra. 

1 And in ten years people change.' 

' Not much.' 

< They learn.' 

1 Not much.' 

I But still something. For instance, I 
have learned that most of the things you 
said were perfectly true and are true still. 
Then you have learned something.' 

I I have learned that I am incapable of 
learning,' she said bitterly. ' I am no 
better, no nobler, no wiser than I was at 
twenty. And if I am changed at all, 
it is in this, that every day my nature 
grows more passionate and ungovernable. 
I know I ought to be changed. I have 
made a great mistake, and I ought to be 
humble and to say that all my old way of 
looking at things was wrong. But I can- 



LADY LAURA. 289 

not. I am the same woman that I was 
before. I shall never be different.' 

' Who wishes yon to be "a different 
woman, Cassandra ? Not I snrely. I 
never heard that when Jacob had served 
seven years for Kachel, he was glad to 
be pnt off with Leah. I think he wanted 
Kachel.' Ehoos was silent for a mo- 
ment ; then he said, — 

1 Cassandra, I have come to ask again the 
same question that I asked ten years ago. 
Have yon only the same answer for me ? ' 

1 The same in substance,' she said, 
'but not the same in tone.' 

' You mean that you say now as then 
that you cannot be my wife ? ' 

1 Yes, I say now as then that I cannot 
love you as a wife should love her 
husband.' 

She spoke firmly though very gently, and 
he felt a sentence in her words against 
which there was no appeal. He had not 

vol. in. 19 



290 LADY LAURA. 

much hope of moving her, but he could 
not give her up without another effort. 

' You are not scornful now. Will you 
not tell me what it is that makes it 
so impossible ? I have loved you con- 
stantly all these years. I do not say 
that I have never admired any other 
woman or that my life has been blameless. 
I do not pretend to any special heights 
of virtue, but I do say that I have 
never seen a woman whom I have 
thought worthy to hold a candle to you, 
and that if you send me away, Egmont's 
wife will be the next Lady St. Asaph. I 
shall never marry another woman. Is it 
nothing to you, Cassandra, that a man 
should care for you for ten years, and 
come back to you ' 

She finished his sentence for him. 

1 And come back to me when my folly 
has humbled me to the dust ? No, it is 
not nothing to me — it is so much that I 



LADY LAURA. 291 

should like to thank you for it on my 
knees. But .... oh, Ehoos ! you have 
been so good to me, and yet what you 
ask is impossible. I cannot do it.' 

He walked twice up and down the room, 
then he said, — 

' Perhaps I have made a mistake — I 
have come too soon. I should have 
waited till you were happier, more your- 
self. Will you forget that I have been 
to-day and let me come again ? ' 

'It would be useless,' she said with 
desperate determination. 'You say you 
could not marry another woman ; judge 
of me by yourself and forgive me. It 
is not my fault or yours that I cannot 
love you. It is our fate — my fate which 
has decreed that for me to love or to 
be loved shall be only an occasion of 
misery to myself and others.' 

' I w T ill say no more,' he answered; and 
for a few moments they were silent. 



292 LADY LAURA. 

Then lie asked her what she was think- 
ing of doing. 

'I mean to be a hospital nurse/ she 
said. 

They were the very same words in 
which she had answered Laura when she 
asked the same question. But she 
uttered them less confidently this time. 
She knew that to Khoos they would 
sound like a declaration of madness, and 
it is difficult to speak with confidence 
when one knows one will be heard with 
amazement. 

He drew a long breath. 

' Good heavens, Cassandra ! Have you 
taken anybody's advice in making this 
decision ? ' 

i I have thought a great deal about it. 
It is a useful life.' 

' Possibly, but not a life fit for you. 
Have you formed any conception of the 
dreariness of it ? ' 



LADY LAURA. 293 

1 It cannot be drearier than my present 
life.' 

' That I believe, but I never expected 
yon to go on long with your present life. 
It was necessary for a time, but now 
you might give it up without making a 
sensation, — you might go home.' 

' Impossible ! I would go if I were 
wanted, but I am not wanted. There 
is no place for me at home. The life I 
am choosing will suit me very well — for 
a time at any rate.' 

' I do not believe it. You are making 
a tremendous mistake. You were made 
for society. You are social, emotional, 
brilliant. You are not the sort of woman 
who can turn herself into a machine and 
live without affections.' 

' I hope not,' said Cassandra, smiling 
for the first time during the interview. 

' Don't tell me you are going to have 
affection for these hospital people,' he 



294 LADY LAURA. 

said ; 1 1 don't believe in that sort of 
thing.' 

'Yes, you do,' said Cassandra. 'I have 
learned that during my ten years.' 

' H'm . . . . Have you told your own 
people of this plan ? ' 

' I shall tell my mother as soon as it 
is quite settled. In the meanwhile I 
have told Laura.' 

* You have seen Laura then? ' 

' She came two days ago. We are 
friends.' 

' I am glad of that. Then I need not 
bother you any more. I feared you might 
be friendless, and I wanted to say that, if 
ever there was anything I could do for 
you, you were to send for me, and I would 
come from anywhere. You know I never 
have anything to do that is of the smallest 
consequence to me or anybody else. And 
when a woman takes her life into her 
own hands, she does sometimes need a 



LADY LAURA. 295 

man's help. You will be doing me a 
kindness by letting me serve you, and 
you need have no fear of my ever renew- 
ing to-day's subject. Will you promise 
that, if ever you need help that I can 
give, you will ask me for it ? ' 

' I promise thankfully,' she said with 
a faltering voice and tears in her eyes. 
And then she gave him her hand and 
they parted. 

As soon as she was alone Cassandra sank 
upon her knees and, burying her face in her 
hands, sobbed long and uncontrollably. 

Many emotions were mingled in her 
tears, — pity for the wound she had in- 
flicted, pity for herself that she had been 
compelled to inflict it, and bitter pas- 
sionate regret for all the sweet and 
pleasant things of life that had become 
impossible to her. Shame and regret 
and self-reproach, — vain yearnings after 
the impossible, weak shrinkings from the 



296 LADY LAURA. 

inevitable. But no repentance from her 
purpose ; for the past had taught her that 
the same world could not hold her and 
Laura's husband without danger to them 
both, which she was resolved never to risk 
again. 

She knelt on, and by degrees she grew 
more calm. All her life passed before 
her in review. Her turbulent childhood, 
her exiled girlhood, her starved woman- 
hood. Her isolation of soul, the hopeless 
love to which she had passionately clung. 
Her brief career in London, her tempta- 
tion, her struggle, her failure. She 
reviewed it all calmly, and asked herself 
where she had gone wrong, at what 
point she had taken the false turn, 
what moment and what act should bear 
the burden of the blame. She reviewed 
the whole dispassionately, and acquitted 
and condemned the whole ; — acquitted 
herself of wrong intentions, condemned 



LADY LAURA. 297 

the faults that made her life a failure. 
She looked her life frankly in the face 
and said, ' I could not do other in the 
past, but I will do other in the future. 
I have striven and failed ; hut in striving 
I have measured my strength, in failing 
I have learned my weakness. I have 
failed, but I have been sincere, and those 
who know me best believe in me still 
and trust me. Laura came back and 
Ehoos came back. Oh, if lie would come 
too ! Then I should know that, for 
him too, the conflict was past and rest 
assured. If he would but come ! ' 

She knelt on, and the wish grew every 
moment more intense. If he would come, 
peace and joy would return, for she would 
know that in his life and Laura's she had 
a place of sympathy and safety. She 
might never see them again, but she 
would be with them evermore in spirit. 
She would have a right to think of 



298 LADY LAURA. 

them and live towards them, and thns 
and thns only she felt that it was possible 
for her to live. If he would bnt come ! 
The wish grew to a prayer — she felt that 
she must kneel on till it was granted. 

She heard the door open behind her. 
She turned towards it. He was there ! 
She rose and came towards him. 

' Maurice,' she said, 'did you know that 
I was praying that you would come ? ' 

1 Then you are not angry with me for 
being here ? ' 

She did not answer, but she looked up 
and gave him both her hands, and her 
eyes smiled. 

'You have grown thin and pale,' he 
said, ' and it is my fault. You are ill.' 

'No, I am happy.' And she smiled 
again. 

' You smile as I have fancied dead 
people might smile,' he said. 

' I smile as people smile when they are 



LADY LAURA. 299 

happy — when the bitterness of death is 
past, and they meet their loved ones at 
the judgment-seat, and are not ashamed. 
— Manrice ! ' 
1 Cassandra ! ' 

I What was it that you came to say ? 
I want to hear it.' 

I I came to ask your forgiveness — to say 
again, what can never be said strongly 
enough, that I have been weak and un- 
worthy — that I have made you suffer.' 

' Do not say it, dear.' 

' But it must be said, or how can I 
take your forgiveness ? How can I ask 
you to believe in me again some day ? ' 

1 I do believe in you. I have always 
believed in you.' 

' I have not done much to deserve that 
you should.' 

'No, that is true,' she said. ' You 
have done very little, almost nothing. 
You see I do not natter you, I am not 



3 oo LADY LAURA. 

a blind believer. I know that you have 
done nothing, and I am not afraid to 
say it.' 

1 1 thank you for saying it. I have done 
nothing, and I have made you suffer.' 

'I did not say that.' 

* But it is true.' 

1 You must not say it again. You have 
come to help me. I want to tell you 
about my plans and to know whether 
you think them mad. Ehoos said they 
were, and so did Laura almost. You 
won't say so, will you ? ' 

' You are going to be a hospital 
nurse ? ' 

1 For a time.' 

I And afterwards ? ' 

I I don't know. I don't think I am in 
a fit state now to make plans for my 
whole life. But I think after a year or 
so in a hospital I shall be myself again, 
and then But I am not going to 



LADY LAURA. 301 

make plans for afterwards. Tell me that 
it is not unreasonable to leave the future 
to shape itself. You used to say so. Do 
you still think it ? ' 

' Cassandra, I did not come to advise 
you. Of what use can my opinion be to 
you ? I persuaded you once against your 
judgment, and trouble came of it. Do 
not tempt me to advise you again.' 

' But it is not advice I want, it is 
confirmation, and no one can give me 
that but you. Maurice, do you remem- 
ber how when first we knew one another 
I used to try to make you more ambitious ? 
— I wanted you to do great things and 
make yourself a name. Do you remem- 
ber how you used to make me angry by 
saying that I worshipped nothing but suc- 
cess, and I used to call you the apostle of 
failure ? And once I challenged you to 
paint a life without success that should 
be deservedly called great, and you said, 



302 LADY LAURA. 

11 To have an ideal that all the world 
thinks mad except oneself, to pursue it 
by paths that all the world thinks wrong 
except oneself, to fail in reaching it 
through some weakness of one's own 
character, to fail ignominiously and pub- 
licly and be hooted at by all the world, and 
to believe in one's ideal more firmly after 
failure than before." Do you remember ? ' 

1 1 do. And I remember that we never 
argued about success and failure again.' 

' True, because you had convinced me. 
I understood that you were only wanting 
in ambition because your ideal was some- 
thing outside of yourself. And from that 
day I believed in you. Tell me that you 
still think as you thought then.' 

' I still think as I thought then, Cassan- 
dra. But when one has made a great mis- 
take and brought trouble on others, it is not 
the moment for speaking with confidence.' 

• No ; but I have forced you to speak. 



LADY LAURA. 303 

You see I have failed, and my ideal is 
unchanged. When I come out of the 
hospital I want to try to do all that I 
dreamed of doing before. You will not 
say that I am mad if I do ? ' 

' Certainly not. To believe more firmly 
after failure is great, not mad.' 

' Maurice, we have stumbled together. 

We have failed together. We tried to do 

what was beyond our strength. We were 

wrong to fail, but we were right to try it.' 

' 1 think we were.' 

1 It is the same with regard to your 
career. You have done nothing brilliant. 
You are nowhere in the race. You have 
not succeeded in making your life what 
you meant it to be. So far you have 
justified the world's judgment of you. 
People will presume upon this. They 
will pester you with advice. They will 
say, with more confidence than ever, all 
the things they said of you before. They 



3 04 LADY LAURA. 

will urge you to change the whole manner 
of your life. They will want you to give 
up everything that interferes with getting 
on in the world, — to drop philanthropies 
that absorb time and money, to draw in 
your sympathies and narrow your in- 
tellect, — to grow hard and concentrated 
and selfish. But they will be wrong. 
Ambition can never be a stimulating 
passion with you, for it is not in your 
nature. You could only develop a narrow 
greed that would cramp your energies and 
paralyse your will more fatally even 
than the hesitation of the past. Your 
true inspiration lies in sympathy. Your 
mistake has been that you have trusted 
it, not too much, but too little. You 
must not listen to the world, Maurice. 
You will not, will you ? You will be 
great and believe more firmly after 
failure than before? — Do I seem to 
you to be talking nonsense ? ' 



LADY LAURA. 305 

' You are speaking the truth. You are 
saying what I wanted to say myself, but 
could not say for shame, for I am bankrupt 
just now of self-respect, and I cannot 
make promises and protestations. But 
if there is any way in which I can serve 
you in the future, any sacrifice that you 
think I ought to make, ask it, and, as 
my life answers, judge of the sincerity 
of my purpose and of the purity of my 
feeling towards you ! ' 

She did not reply, and he repeated, — 

1 1 cannot make promises or protes- 
tations. I am ashamed to make them. 
But if you believe in me — and you say 
you do — ask something — anything — 
everything.' 

Still she was silent. 

* Is there nothing then ? Nothing 
great or small that I can do and feel 
as I do it that I am serving you ? Is 
there nothing, Cassandra ? ' 

vol. in. 20 



306 LADY LAURA. 

' There is everything,' she said. ' Oh, 
Maurice — Maurice — Maurice — you have 
told me to speak. If I speak wrongly you 
must bear the blame. You have told me 
to ask some one thing of you, and I can ask 
nothing less than everything. My whole 
life depends on yours, my soul lives by 
yours. Nothing short of your whole life 
can satisfy me. You tell me to command 
you to do something, and I can only say, 
Be faithful to yourself. Be what you are 
to me in my thoughts day by day and 
night by night. Be manly, simple, tender, 
true, and kind. Be upright and faithful, 
generous and brave. Be what you are 
and what I love, and you will repay me a 
thousandfold for all the pain . . .' 

A sob broke her voice and she stopped 
a moment to recover it. He took her 
hand and drew her towards him, and 
she crept close with the shivering move- 
ment of a frightened child. 



LADY LAURA. 307 

€ You told me to speak,' she said, 'and 
I spoke as I felt. I could do nothing 
else* For, you see, it is the last time. 
And yet I do not know that you have 
understood me. And you must under- 
stand me. I cannot live unless you 
understand me, I cannot trust myself 
otherwise. I look to you to save me. 
You ivill save me, if you will let me say 
one thing more before we part. Maurice, 
may I say it, and, when I have said it, 
will you say Amen, and kiss me, and 
then go ? ' 

He drew her nearer and held her ten- 
derly. . ' Speak,' he said, ' and I will say 
Amen. It is you who save me. Why 
should you fear to speak ? ' 

She disengaged her hand from his, and 
stood a little hack. ' I am very lonely,' 
she said, and her voice was low and 
tremulous. ' Life is difficult, and I am 
all alone. I cannot find God anywhere 



308 LADY LAURA. 

as our fathers and mothers found him. 
I try to, but it is in vain. It is the same 
with you. You feel as I do that there 
is no Father of all to whom all can 
pray . . . But I must believe in some- 
thing — I must pray to some one. And, 
Maurice . . .' Here her voice faltered 
so that she could not go on speaking, 
but after a moment she began again 
more firmly, — 

' It seems to me that though there 
is no one God in heaven for all, there 
is God somewhere for each one of us. 
Somewhere, in some one soul, the highest 
is revealed to each of us. And that soul 
becomes to us a temple for evermore, a 
shrine at which we kneel, a holy of holies 
where we meet the Eternal face to face. 
But the temple maybe defiled, the Eternal 
may leave it, the shrine may be desolate, 
and then it is death to the soul that 
worshipped there. Maurice, you are my 



LADY LAURA. 309 

temple, my shrine, my holy of holies. 
Promise me that wherever and whenever 
we meet, here on earth, or hereafter — if 
there be a hereafter, — promise me that 
when we meet and I look into your eyes, 
I shall see the light burning within, and 
know that the glory of God has not de- 
parted from you. Promise me, Maurice ! ' 

She had gathered courage and convic- 
tion as she spoke ; with every word her 
voice had gained strength and energy, 
and by the end of her appeal it had risen 
to a tone of authority, so that the words 
1 Promise me, Maurice 1' sounded more 
like a command than an entreaty. But 
as soon as she had spoken, her confi- 
dence forsook her, and with a movement 
of shame, she turned away and sobbed, — 

' Oh, what have I said ? Forgive 
me .... I am mad.' 

Then for one moment his arms were 
round her, and she felt his kiss upon her 



3'io LADY LAURA. 

hair and on her brow. And she slid from 
his embrace and sank upon the ground 
and buried her face in her hands. 

1 Oh, not for my sake only,' she said, 
' but for the sake of all who are desolate 
and tempted, be pure and true and 
strong ! Not for my sake, but for your 
own .... for hers whom we have 
wronged, Maurice, answer ! ' 

And he bent over her, and she heard 
him say ' Amen.' And it seemed to her 
that the blessing of peace had come to 
her at last, and she whispered, — 

1 Go now. It is over. You have 
promised. You will be faithful to your- 
self, and I shall not despair.' 

Then she heard the door open and 
close again, and she knew that she was 
alone. 



Hazell, Watson, and Viney, Printers, London and Aylesbury. 




UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS-URBANA 




3 0112 041678100